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Bordeaux drinking windows – Ask Decanter

Some perceived discrepancies in drinking windows raises a good question...

Bordeaux drinking windows – Ask Decanter

Bassam Cordahi, Lebanon, asks: In your articles about Pessac-Léognan and the Bordeaux 2008 vintage (The story of an appellation and 2008: a decade on, Bordeaux 2018 issue), I was surprised to see tasting notes for young Bordeaux showing a narrower drinking window (21-23 years) than the older wines (37-40 years), despite the fact that techniques, winemaking and viticulture have evolved and improved since that time.

For example: Domaine de Chevalier red 1986, drink by 2026; Domaine de Chevalier red 2017, drink by 2040; Domaine de Chevalier red 2008, drink by 2032. Why is this?

Jane Anson, Decanter’s Bordeaux correspondent, replies: It’s an interesting question. I think the perceived discrepancy stems from the fact that I’m reluctant to give a drinking window for a young wine that is so wide as to render it meaningless.

The windows given for the younger wines are reflective of when they will be ready to begin drinking but will still have retained the plumpest fruit and be firmly on the plateau of drinking for most of us, who have palates that respond to wines that retain a rich and deep fruit expression.

But in truth Bordeaux often surpasses expectations of ageing – one can open a wine that is at its peak, and know that it will stay there for a good decade longer (I would use the Domaine de Chevalier 1986 as an example).

Some older wines clearly need drinking up, but with others it seems unfair to discount the pleasure they are still giving, even though the flavours are definitely tertiary in nature – more undergrowth and walnut than cassis and charred oak.

But I wonder if we should have some other way to indicate when they are really in the last-chance saloon… Anyway, a great question that made me think about my approach to these windows – thank you so much for asking.

This question first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Decanter magazine.

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