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Mature Wine vs. Young Wine: How Age Comes to Bear

Mature wine | Auction in Boston

At Auction November 8, 2011 in Boston: Lot 622: Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Richebourg 1988, 9 bottles, Est. $6,000-8,000

There are few moments in the hectic tide of everyday life when a hush falls, you focus fully on one thing, and the world seems to stop. Drinking a mature wine as it is blooming in the glass can be one of those unexpected moments of transcendence. Granted, it is, after all, just a sip of a beverage, but the unexpected nature of the experience makes it that much more delightful.

In a mature wine, even the bottle presentation is different. Instead of a pristine bottle sporting a clear label, it may be a crusty, bin-soiled wreck of a bottle, with a stained, glue-striped deteriorating label, distinctly revealing layers of time spent in the depths of a cellar.

Before drinking, you will want to stand the bottle upright for at least a day to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom and keep it out of your glass, at least until the last glorious glass when it begins to creep into the pour.

The removal of the cork from a bottle of mature wine may require forethought and applied strategy. You may run through your collection of corkscrews as you try to pull out the older cork, saturated with wine from its long horizontal rest. The older corks are longer and skinnier and so even more difficult to deliver in one clean pull. Sometimes a mess is unavoidable.

Once the wine is in your glass, you will experience the surge of the familiar, but even then, it is all different.

For a red wine, the deep red/burgundy/violet colors of the wine have shifted a spot or two to the left on the color spectrum, becoming tinged with rust and deeper browning, particularly on the edges. The sediment has been filtering slowly as the tannins bind and drop out, leaving a more translucent, lighter-appearing wine.

Older wines may require some patience and a delay of judgment. Be prepared to spend some time with each glass. Capturing the essence of these wines in descriptions and adjectives is an exercise almost better left undone, and could obscure the sensation and immediacy of drinking it – an experience almost on the molecular level. However blunt and imperfect, tasting notes do provide that necessary recall.

With young wines, notes on the wines may declare a wine’s character as brash or volatile. Some younger wines grab you by the shirt collar for attention, and some you can’t seem to keep up with. With mature wines, such as the Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva 1971, or the Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia White 1966, each featured in the November 8, 2011 Wine Auction in Boston, there are layers of aroma issuing from the glass. The Monfortino is textured autumnal layers, one softly falling away to reveal another. My tasting notes include phrases such as: “strikingly fine quality; humectant, woodsmoke, truffles, with a fullness of experience in the bottle.” The Lopez de Heredia has a “startling gravitas and depth, with a graceful tension between its ethereal delicacy and evolving maturity.”

When I open a mature wine, I often decant some of the bottle to track parallel evolutions. Handling older wines may take a little more time, and it may seem as if you’re pulling up another chair for it at the table, as it becomes a focal point at moments, then recedes, then returns with another quality. This, to me, is remarkable.

Even if you pour a wine that is past its prime, there is still enjoyment to be had; it may not be the glory of all it was, but there is a semblance of it. It’s impossible to open every bottle at the perfect moment in the arc of its maturity. But I think it’s the surprise of not knowing exactly what to expect from a mature bottle of wine that keeps us so attuned to what’s in our glass, and keeps us pulling out those soaked, crumbly corks in the first place.

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