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.
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