Or, Have you ever wondered whether that wine is good enough to age?
I am titling this post "Back in time" for many reasons. One: The title makes an obvious reference to the time and place when grapes are harvested and vinified -- those crucial moments that shape the lifeline of a wine. Two: what follows is an old tasting note that I had written and then put aside. The wine reviewed in my note is one that has not been sold in stores for over a year's time -- you'd likely need a time machine to track it down. Yet I find this old relic of a note -- of little interest to today's wine shoppers -- quite interesting, especially because it says something about the lifespan of wine. I guess the goal of this post is show that history can be very instructive in appreciating wine.
Joe, who writes Joe's Wine Journal, raised an instructive question here about when a wine is ready to drink and whether the auspicious 2002 vintage in Northern France meant that folks should be waiting longer to uncork bottles from that vintage. I was writing about an unclassed 2002 Chablis I had held on to, and he wondered whether the current 2005 vintage of it could come close to going a similar distance.
The answer is a mystery to all but those (not me) who have tasted the 2005. Even then, the answer can only be a prediction on how the wine will mature. Here's what I found out about French wine from the north of France circa 2002.
TIME VS PLACE, VINTAGE VS VINEYARD
Joe's comment first sent me to my Oxford Companion to Wine. There is no doubt that Chablis wines are among the great white wines of the world and as a result, benefit from some ageing. An exceptional vintage like 2002 obviously has a role in prolonging the development of a Chablis, making a fine wine even better. So good advice would be to check a vintage chart to see how long you should wait to open a 2005. (An fine example of one such vintage chart is on the Berry Bros & Rudd site -- it is both user-friendly and useful.)
But once everything is said and done, the vineyard itself is probably is more significant than the vintage. A vineyard that is classed to produce a grand cru or a premier cru makes a wine that is built to last, and in fact, built to get better in the case of Chablis.
For example, the J Moreau & Fils is not a classified growth. I guess that's why my instincts initially said don't wait for the 2005. Yet the 2002 version of it held its own despite being generic Chablis, which means you're back at the vintage chart determining how far you want to gamble with your bottle.
Then I went to the SAQ database, which added to the dilemma. The Quebec wine seller has several Chablis Premier Cru that are actually cheaper than a generic Chablis like J Moreau. The price difference could be the result of various factors but one could only assume that wine quality be one of them. So this makes for yet another reason to defer to someone who's had the opportunity to assess it: Michel Phaneuf; Jancis Robinson, et al -- hey, Jamie Goode has got a scoop on 2005 Laroche on his site today. (I've said it before and I'll say it again, the worldly wine taster whose palate you can relate to is worth more than its weight in gold.)
ENOUGH CHABLIS, WHAT ABOUT CHINON
All this research and musing led me back to this note I took on the Couly-Dutheil La Coulée Automnale Chinon 2002, a Loire Valley Cabernet. When this wine came out at the SAQ, it was not well-reviewed by Michel Phaneuf. I think this is exactly the type of bottle that needs time. A case of its class being trumped by its vintage. This bottle is at the bottom of totem as far as vineyard prestige is concerned, but that didn't stop it from showing a clear ability to develop over time, especially given the vintage. When I tasted it in its fifth year, it modest lineage still had miles and miles in it. Here's that note.
Couly-Dutheil La Coulée Automnale Chinon 2002 - (pictured at top): Though this vintage is no longer available on SAQ shelves, it would be wise to decant it once and then decant it again for good measure. This style of wine can last weeks in the open air and is only supple enough to really show its stuff after a thorough aeration or, even better yet, on the next night (or the night after that). Delicious with earthy dishes, beef medallions, ratatouille pasta. ***So it appears that vintage is key, vineyard is not. Or is it? Tomorrow: a great vintage lets me down.