Complexity and age

As with people, wines generally become more complex and interesting with age. Red wines will typically age better and for longer than whites, although there are some wonderful examples of whites that age well, in particular white Bordeaux and the best Chardonnay from Burgundy.  In all cases the very best raw material is required for successful aging.

I was very fortunate to taste a brilliant example of the complexity age can bring to a wine last week. It was a Premier Cru Chardonnay from the Chassagne Montrachet appellation in the Côte de Beaune, Burgundy. The wine was from the Marc Morey estate, vintage 2004.

The nose had a lot of “tertiary characteristics” (aromas and flavours that develop in the bottle with age, as opposed to from the grape – “primary” – or during the winemaking process – “secondary”). This is to say there was a truffly-undergrowth quality to the aromatic profile; in particular, I noted vegetal hints of cooked asparagus and courgette. Ripe tropical fruits underlay these aromas and merged rather successfully to produce a “pickled mango” note that came through as the wine warmed in the glass. Crisp lemon penetrated all this to give the nose structure around which the subtle butteriness of new French oak suffused.

On the palate the wine was no less complex. The oak showed more: a firm nuttiness, even a slight smoky character. Mangos and lemons were there, along with ripe red apples. The alcohol was very well balanced in the wine, the body medium-full and the finish was wonderfully long with honey, mangos and apples reminiscent on the senses. If I were to be critical of the balance, I would say that the acidity was lacking just slightly. This is not unusual for aged wines (at 6 years old, a Chardonnay can be considered ‘aged’); acidity generally decreases in the bottle over time. This is why it is important to begin with the very best raw materials, and to have care and attention in the wine-making to produce a wine that will last.

If I were tasting this wine blind, the colour (a golden-straw) along with the ripe apples, tropical fruits and oak characteristics would lead me to a warm-climate Chardonnay. The mushroom/undergrowth notes and lack of biting acidity give a clue to the age. The incredible balance, its complexity and the wonderfully long finish tell you this is a very well-made wine; while this is not unheard of in, say, Australia or California, it is much more likely to come from Burgundy.

Served lightly chilled, this wine was perfect to accompany a summer dining entrée. A chicken salad would be ideal, yet this wine even went with a dish of Cornish lobster and mango purée.

One of my tasting companions noted that this wine had developed significantly from when he had last tasted it just over a year ago. Then, he said, the fruit was more prominent and the tertiary characteristic less pronounced.  Although I suspect that now is the ideal time to drink this wine – too much longer in the cellar and the acidity will drop to become unbalanced – it would be interesting to taste the wine in another year. The tertiary aromas and flavours will develop further into something even more complex!

It just goes to show what a little patience in opening a bottle can produce.

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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3 Responses to Complexity and age

  1. Neel Burton says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the Cornish lobster, yum yum. The white wines that age the best, I would say, are riesling. Chenin blanc and gewurtraminer also age very well.

  2. James says:

    Indeed; wines with a little residual sugar tend to age well. Aged Chenin is really interesting. I think the oldest I’ve had was a ’98 from the Loire, earlier this year.

  3. beyondanomie says:

    Just reading your tasting notes brought all the flavours back to my mind; the mark of a great write-up!

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