Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Good Wines Versus Great Wines
The potential for a wine to be enjoyed many years after the bottling date is, therefore, what separates great wines from the day-to-day, good wines. The words worth remembering are “age and improve,” for if the wine merely ages without developing more interesting flavors and aromas, then it’s only gotten older. And older ‘tain’t necessarily better. Well, at least with respect to wines.
Sidebar: There is an old saying that goes something like this: “The French drink them young, so the government won’t take them. The English drink them old, so they can show their friends cobwebs and dusty bottles. The Americans drink them anytime they want, because they simply don’t know any better.”
Notwithstanding the above, if you’re a wine enthusiast and are appellation-wise and grape-varietal-astute and you’ve considered exploring the finer qualities that an aged wine can reveal, then in my humble and biased opinion, you’re edging away from the casual wine drinker status to one that is entering the more stimulating aspects of wine appreciation.
This is the juncture at which wine becomes more than mere food accompaniment. It is when that mature red with its gentle messages arouses your intellect to delve beyond the initial findings of sniff and sip, fruit and flowers. With patient probing, you discover that the youthful, fruity freshness of red and black berry/cherry fruits have transformed into subtle and enticing nuances of dried fruit, toast, tobacco, mocha and other age-related bottle bouquets. It is no longer “just a beverage” as one anti-wine snob has maintained. (Click here.)
One of the early symptoms of yielding to the sensuous, subliminal tug of wine appreciation is when, after your first sip, you take a long look at the shimmering liquid and think, “That tasted good, really good.” And perhaps after another more deliberate savoring, you wonder, “Why did I like that? What does it have that others don’t?” (This distinctive and mysterious quality is known as “complexity.”) At this point, you will review the basics of color, aromatics, flavor, finish, acidity and tannins. And as you continue the pursuit, you will consider the next level of fine wine characteristics like balance and depth, structure and style. Where you go to from there, is up to you.
On a metaphorical level, which is where I feel the emotional connection occurs, such wines are like the warm and heartfelt embrace of an old friend. No longer showing the rich, raw power of youth, they have become beautifully balanced, soft, fragrant and thought provoking, and sometimes—dare I say—tear duct activating with their inherent beauty. As Hugh Johnson, one of the more interesting and evocative wine writers of the last four decades, has observed, “There are some (fine wines) in the world that are simply beautiful; there is no other word for them. They offer as much to the aesthetic sense as great music or great painting. If you ever come to the point of asking what all the fuss is about, why people talk so much about wine, that is the answer.“