What is it about older wines that attracts us, like moths to a flame?
Maybe it’s akin to the daring of an older lover, or the mystique of yet-to-be-revealed secrets, or simply the call of the unknown and unexpected.
Opening a bottle of wine older than, say, five years, which really doesn’t make it old except under today’s standards of winemaking, shouldn’t be such a risk.
Many people tonight are opening wines bottled before they were born and, sure, some bottles won’t pan out.
But that’s OK, because the people seeking older wines have learned that wine can improve with age and with that the need to hold the reins on one’s expectations.
Today’s wines rarely are aimed at being around for 15 years or more. It’s certainly not true in all cases, but many wines — luscious fruit bombs with soft tannins and little acidity — are made to be consumed while young, aged no longer than the drive home from the liquor store.
This is because of several reasons, not the least of which are today’s consumer desire for fruity, easy drinking wines to please a sweeter palate and to ease the trials of waiting a decade to drink a wine they might not like anyway.
But once in a while, even while searching for a “tonight” wine, you come across a vintage that dares to ask: Drink me now or wait for me?
If you purchase and open a recent bottling of a good Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo or any of several other varieties, you’ll likely find it a bit stringent, short on fruit and long on tannins and acidity.
Come back in 10 years (or more) and it will like have mellowed, with intense fruit, rounder tannins and a depth unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. These wines, and wines like them that are subtle, nuanced, complex, were made to age, unready to share their secrets until time was on their side.
Recently, the Grand Valley received some welcome publicity from a national wine magazine. The article touched on the many wonderful attributes the Grand Valley offers to visitors (and locals) and mentioned the local AVA (American Viticultural Area), unfortunately overlooking the nearby West Elks AVA along the North Fork Valley.
But some of us reading the article had the same feeling we get when someone asks us, “You mean they actually grow grapes in Colorado?”
There are thousands of wine lovers in Colorado and elsewhere who enjoy Colorado wines, and a large percentage of them have done so for many years.
That message came home once more last weekend, when I opened a bottle of Plum Creek Winery’s 2006 Grand Mesa. This blend of 54-percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 46-percent Merlot was made by then-winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, now head of the enology curriculum at Western Colorado Community College.
Maybe 12 years doesn’t seem long to you, but making a wine that lasts isn’t an accident.
There aren’t many wines made here or anywhere that are sure to hold up for a decade or more. A lot has to be done right, including a bit of foresight by the winemaker.
Baldwin-Eaton said this wine, with Colorado grapes grown by Galen Wallace, typically was made in alternating years and suggested the 2008 and 2010 Grand Mesa might be equally age-worthy.
She said the grapes came “from individual vineyards (and) tasted to make sure they are of reserve status and bring what I am looking for in the blend.” Only select vineyard sites are given reserve status, she said, and then they are checked each year to make sure they deserve the reserve status.
Baldwin-Eaton added, “This is a wine that is meant to have bottle aging time.”
The Grand Mesa usually included a bit of Cabernet Franc, but that was unavailable for 2006 so only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were used.
“The Merlot site is one of the oldest vineyard sites up on East Orchard Mesa, some of the first vines planted in the late ’70s,” Baldwin-Eaton wrote in an email. “In looking at the stats, looks like we had an even ripening between accumulation of sugar and ripening flavor profile. Must have been a nice fall.”
It’s all those things — perfect weather, established and well-grown grapes, a winemaker with an idea of what the finished product can be even before the first grape is picked — that are needed.
“This is a really fun wine for me to make, because it is a blend,” she said. “You are trying to figure out the best possible blend that adds to the complexity of the wine, making it a better product than the individual components.”
Growing older can be sweet, indeed.
Other notable older vintages include several by Colorado Cellars Winery, including the 1986 Merlot and the 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon (gold and double gold, respectively, at the 2016 Colorado Governor’s Cup competition).
Colorado Cellars (coloradocellars.com) has a wine library going back to 1978, said Shelly Smith, warehouse manager.
Also, a recent discovery was the 2005 Chambourcin from winemaker Yvon Gros at Leroux Creek Vineyards (lerouxcreekvineyards.com).
I’ll be happy to hear about others you might find.