95% of wines are consumed within a week of purchase. It’s a fact, but is it vinous genocide? I had a conversation with a notable wine educator the other night who said he preferred young wines and can only recall tasting eight older wines that were worth the wait or more enjoyable to drink older than younger.
It was no coincidence we were having this conversation at Troquet, a Boston wino restaurant that has made a habit out of clearing end bins and one-of-a-kind leftovers in a blowout tabletop summertime sale. Drinking 70’s Bordeaux and 80’s Burgundy is as simple as walking over to the selected wines on display and picking a few bottles priced between $10 and $50 to show up at your dinner table. The question, even at those prices, is whether these forgotten old wines are worth it?
From my perspective, the answer is almost always “yes”. I have written lots about my bias and curiosity for laying down wines, going as far as putting simple wines like mass produced Washington State Chardonnay to the tests of age. From an educational point of view, I think even wines gone bad have some value. And wines that ultimately showed better younger than older still delivered a variety of interesting palate experiences at both life stages. Successful wine aging experiences are like sinking long golf puts. It takes forever to get to the hole, some long puts have inherently higher success rates than others because of green breaks, speed, and grass. But the sound of a long roll finishing in the cup is always more exciting than the similar hollow clanking echoes of shorter puts. In kind, some wines have better chances of aging more successfully than others because of region, terroir, grape variety, vintage, and cellar conditions. Just like a long put, a great old wine survives challenging variables that contribute to a more exciting outcome.
So, standing around the sale table and without too much hesitation I snatched the ($20) 1972 Pierre Olivier Cotes du Rhone, ($30) 1983 Haut Marbuzet, ($20) 1985 Chateau Vaugelas Corbieres, and ($20) 1992 V Sattui Preston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Luckily, some wine friends who were sitting at the next table generously shared their ($30) 1970 Chateau Croizet Bages.
(NR) 1972 Pierre Olivier Cotes du Rhone, France
The oldest Cotes du Rhone I ever experienced was a 1989 Coudoulet de Beaucastel at age 18 and it was beautifully vibrant, advanced, and elegant like an old Chateauneuf du Pape from a strong vintage. There was intense risk counting on this evening’s 39 year old wine to perform anywhere close to the ’89 Coudoulet. We struck out; the wine was brown and undrinkable tasting of vinegar, apple cider, prunes, and had a bouquet distantly related to Sherry. We poured it out and wrote the $20 off to a learning experience. No more 1970’s Cotes du Rhones.
***1/2 1983 Haut Marbuzet, St. Estephe, Bordeaux, France
The wine showed dark brick red in the glass with brown at the edges. The nose had turned exotic with cinnamon, spice, clove, anise, and smoke. There was an elegant mouthfeel produced by the balance between richness and lightness. The fruit was still composed, albeit just hanging on. I was interested to see what Parker said about this wine at release but his earliest tasting note was from May of 1993 where he said:
Fully mature since it was released, the 1983 Haut-Marbuzet continues to offer that decadent, flashy style…huge nose of jammy black-raspberry fruit, coffee, smoky oak, and herbs….Medium to full-bodied and voluptuous, this soft, fat, viscously textured wine is still alarmingly low in acidity, yet it shows no sign of decline. The color exhibits some amber at the edge, but, wow, what an explosive, ripe, intense mouthfeel this wine provides! It should drink well until the end of this decade
I can see the relationship in this same wine I drank 18 years later. I am amazed to learn the wine was showing such a degree of maturity in 1993 considering it is still very much alive and worth drinking now. What fun to learn that the smoke, herbs, fruit, color and mouthfeel of the 27 year old wine can be traced back to its more “youthful” profile. This was a delight to drink and underscores the age worthiness that makes Bordeaux so compelling to lay away. I noticed WineBid has the 2001 Haut Marbuzet listed for $30 in the current auction and it just might be worth taking the head start on the aging process at that price.
**1/2 1985 Chateau Vaugelas Corbieres, Languedoc, France
I am a sucker for the 1985 vintage. Besides the fact I was married that year, the softness and approachability of the Bordeaux and Northern Rhone wines I have tasted in their youth have aged gracefully and reliably. I wondered how a more southern Languedoc would hold up. It was dark brick in color, tremendously vibrant and alive. The nose held wet cardboard and cola aromas that were palatable. The green vegetable aromatic was not. But the texture was rich and held a fair degree of its tannin. Of all the wines we drank this evening, this wine was showing the most youthful character, but married it with flavors and aromas that weren’t completely pleasant. A great experiment, and another vote for old world wine age worthiness even when the final product is not your cup of tea. I never would have had this thrilling chance to taste a 26 year old Corbieres if somebody had not purposely or forgetfully left a bottle laying around the cellar. So thanks, whoever you are.
*** 1992 V Sattui Preston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
I have a bunch of mid eighties and early nineties California Cabernet occupying cellar space. When I open a bottle I am generally pleased, but when I open one next to a same vintage Bordeaux, I am consistently underwhelmed. These wines manage to hold up enough, advance to a certain degree, but ultimately rely on lingering California fruitiness as opposed to balance and complexity. The V Sattui held true. On this evening, it was the freshest of all the wines, but it was also the youngest. It had a deep garnet color, brightness to the nose that combined with significant black licorice notes, and soft classic California fruit. But, the wine was not showing enough complexity to make me believe that it is better or more exotic older than it was younger. As a result, it felt a little tired even though it was the youngest and brightest of all the wines we tried. I was more excited by the funky flavors and aromas of the Corbieres, but this Sattui was seemingly more correct; just not for my palate.
**** 1970 Croizet Bages, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
My friends at the next table passed me a glass of their 1970 Croizet Bages and it turned out to be the wine of the night. The nose had a roasted, smoky, lead pencil aroma profile that married up to fresh herbs and pepper. It was followed by wonderfully bright and round black cherry fruit that still produces significant volume on your palate. The wine finished long and satisfyingly. This 41 year old wine was a steal at $30. It is a steal at $150. This is a fifth growth Pauillac, close in name and proximity to its more venerable neighbor, Lynches Bages. An also ran wine in the 1855 classification and it can hold on for 40 years to create a drinking experience that makes you lust after another bottle! It just so happens you can go make a bid of $40 at WineBid now and possibly have yourself the same memorable experience as I did.