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Enjoying mature Bordeaux: top tips and the best old vintages

Tasting wines from decades – and even centuries – gone by can be a magical experience, and there’s a treasure trove of legendary vintages out there. You just need to know what you’re looking for, and where to find it.

How old is old? The concept of ‘mature’ wine is a slippery one. My stock answer has long been, ‘wine is mature when it is older than I am’.

Born in 1963, I have the 1961 Bordeaux wines firmly in my sights, and I have often found them celestial. The appeal of this magical, legendary vintage in Bordeaux has always been self-evident to me, but the fact that not everyone loves mature wine prompts me to reflect. When is a bottle of wine really ‘ready to drink’?

Scroll down to see a selection of mature Bordeaux wines chosen by Charles Curtis MW

Many wine lovers enjoy young wine the most. I love it too – tonight’s Bordeaux is a 2016 from the Right Bank. Still, I have always felt that there should be something more. Although some will argue that the first duty of a wine is to have fruit, I have often loved – extravagantly – wines with no discernible fruit at all (if by ‘fruit’ one means ‘primary’ aromas coming from the grapes).

Secondary aromas are those from the winemaking process (such as barrel-ageing), and tertiary aromas come from bottle age. Sometimes I want all tertiary, all the time. These are evocative aromas: cedar and gunflint, earth and truffle, salty, savoury and gamey notes. Dried flowers, dried fruits and a suggestion of soy sauce can all appear – complex, deep, resonant aromas.

Bordeaux harvest, 27 September 1959. Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

My first exposure to this sort of wine was at pre-auction tastings during the late 1990s, attending some of the early sales in New York as a buyer. Auction houses have long asked their consignors for samples. It was possible, 25 years ago, to attend a walk-around tasting of 20 or 30 of the wines to be sold. I bought wine at auction – some great, some less good, but the positive experiences outweighed the negative ones.

A taste of decades past: Curtis on the delights of mature Bordeaux wines

Caveat emptor: bottles of these old vintages may be found via merchants or auctions, but check condition carefully if purchasing

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