I WAS fortunate enough recently to be invited to a luncheon celebrating the 80th birthday of someone who has spent 60 years in the trade. For this occasion, he brought out a number of old bottles, of which some were outstanding, some were great, and one or two had seen better days.
When he started in the trade, wine merchants in this country and producers overseas accepted that it was part of their job to hold a number of back vintages in stock. Now, financial pressures mean that even the greatest wines are sold younger, and are made so that they can be consumed sooner. For many years, the greatest Bordeaux wines have been offered en primeur: that is, before they have been bottled; now, this custom has spread to Burgundy, the Rhône valley, and even further afield.
Of course, more than 90 per cent of wines that we see are ready for immediate drinking, and research some years ago in the United States suggested that the average time-lapse between the purchase of a bottle of wine and its consumption was less than two hours. If we want to buy wines on the high street with a little age, however, a good place to start is with Spanish wines.
The wine laws there mean that many wines have to be aged for a certain time before they can be released on the market. For example, a gran reserva Rioja has to be at least five years old before it can be sold. Waitrose offers a Baron de Ley Gran Reserva 2008 for £16.85, while the Viña Tondonia 2002 Reserva from Lopez Heredia is £27.95.
Certain wines from Italy have minimum ageing requirements. Among these are Barolo from Piemonte, and Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, although the emphasis on ageing in cask is becoming less pronounced. Waitrose offers a Terre da Vino Barolo Riserva 2004 for £17.99, and Lay & Wheeler a Vignolo Riserva 2007 for £64. Tanners have the Castello di Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2009 from Sesti for £44.90, and Waitrose the 2010 vintage of Piancornello for £29.99.
What did we drink at this lunch? We started with three white Burgundies of the 1983 vintage, of which I thought the outstanding wine was the Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot from Moillard, and we finished with 1963 vintage Ports from Dow, Sandeman, and Cockburn.
Between these bookends came a number of other notable bottles, of which I enjoyed a magnum of Ch. Haut Brion 1967, a Chanson Clos Vougeot 1969, and a beautiful Ch. Climens, Barsac 1967. These wines showed brilliantly, and demonstrated the potential for ageing great wines.
For those looking for something more youthful, and at a more reasonable price, my eye was caught by the following wines at Marks & Spencer: the Clos Sainte Odile Riesling 2011 from Alsace (£14); the little-seen Pinot Noir from northern Burgundy, Simonnet-Febvre Irancy 2013 (£14); and Kings Ridge Oregon Pinot Noir 2013 (£13).
Whether you drink young or old, as they seem to say nowadays, “Enjoy.”