Matt Walls explains why we should be drinking mature wines this winter, and picks out 10 shining examples from the Rhône.
Most Côtes-du-Rhônes are juicily drinkable on release, but certain Rhône appellations produce wines that go on developing for decades.
‘We are lucky,’ says Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘we can make wines that can age – so I think we should.’
Young wines offer vibrancy, brightness and refreshment, but only in maturity do they reach their full aromatic complexity and textural harmony.
Scroll down to see Matt’s top 10 mature Rhône wines for drinking this Christmas
When should I drink my wine?
Relatively simple Rhônes are best drunk within their first four years of life, but the most powerful, tannic reds are best drunk either in the first two years after bottling or after eight years, as they risk entering a closed, inexpressive phase in between.
These Syrah-based wines can last for decades. The best estates in Hermitage produce wines that last for 50 years or more in great vintages, reds and whites alike, but most are particularly enjoyable between 12 and 20 years as they become complex, assertive and smoky.
The best of Côte-Rôtie are similarly long-lived, but most show their best between eight and 18 years as their subtler woodland aromas come to the fore.
Cornas follows a similar arc, needing seven or eight years to file down its serrated tannins and tease out it’s more buried scents.
Crozes-Hermitage and most St-Joseph will be ready sooner.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape makes the longest-lived reds in the south of the region, with top vintages stored in reliable conditions hitting their stride at around 15 to 20 years – though the best can develop for 40 years or more. The very best whites can also last 20 years with ease.
Top Gigondas also benefits from age, as a stunning 1983 Moulin de la Gardette proved earlier this year, though between eight and 15 years is a more typical window of peak maturity.
The best reds from other southern crus are usually enjoyable from release, hitting maturity after four years and lasting eight to 10 years.
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Mature Rhône from the cellar for Christmas
Tips for choosing the right bottle
With age, any excess alcohol, sweetness or oak will become more apparent – so starting with a well-balanced wine is crucial.
Older wines lose their youthful impact, becoming more mellow and subtle in flavour and texture. Most mature Châteauneufs, for example, will have shed their youthful vibrancy and primary juicy fruit flavours. Tannins soften, but they retain a broad generosity and richness on the palate, and often take on sous-bois, autumn leaf, truffle or roasted meat aromas.
Consider what you’re eating
If it’s a powerfully flavoured dish of roast beef, lamb or venison, choose a Châteauneuf, Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie or Cornas from a respected producer in a good vintage – and even then, not overly mature.
If you’re having a more delicately flavoured dish, such as roast turkey, chicken, game bird or pork, then your options are more open; a mature white or red from most Rhône appellations is unlikely to clash.
What will I be drinking on Christmas day? We’re having roast cockerel with all the trimmings, so I’ve got three on my current mental shortlist – subject to change several times a day of course – Domaine Barge Duplessy Côte-Rôtie 2006, Château des Tours Vacqueyras 2010, and Delas Domaine des Tourettes Hermitage Blanc 2016.
Which would you choose?