Why We Like Old Wines

old wines 2What exactly is the appeal of old wines?

I enjoy aged wines, just as they are developing their peak tertiary aromas and soft elegant textures but with plenty of vibrant fruit still available. Quality examples of age worthy varietals can last 20 years or more at that peak of goodness. But eventually they will start to fade ,and when they do I’m not sure I see the attraction. When I hear of people lovingly opening 40 or 50 year old wines I wonder what they get from them.

The oldest wine I have consumed was about 40 years old. My wife and I were dining in a restaurant enjoying a bottle of wine, and a couple at a nearby table got up to leave. On the way out they stopped by our table and said “you look like you really enjoy wine. You can finish what’s left in this bottle.” It was a 1957 Bordeaux (I don’t remember the Chateau but it wasn’t a Premier Crus.) We were grateful for the rare opportunity to taste such an old wine. It was interesting to taste what time and oxygen had done to the wine but I remember saying to myself, I must be missing something. The occasion was memorable but not the wine.

To be honest, I think I’ve had only 1 or 2 wines over 25 years old that provided a remarkable tasting experience unless it was virtually indestructible like a Vintage Port or Madeira.

But perhaps taste and flavor are beside the point. What we get from old wines is not flavor but pathos. We sense the wines mortality and take up its cause. We respect its tenacity, sympathize with its struggles, one codger to another, in solidarity with everything that has seen better days.

The predations of time have their own aesthetic appeal—that’s why the Japanese invented Wabi Sabi—but it’s much more an emotional connection than a matter of taste.


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