I beg to differ, Aged wines? Yes please!
Thoughts on Matt Kramer’s recent essay: Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore? (Subtitled: Wines have changed and so have our palates).
On January 8, 2013 Matt Kramer; an American wine critic since 1976 and a regular contributor to Wine Spectator Magazine, who has been described as “perhaps the most un-American of all America’s wine writers” “HAD AN ENLIGHTENMENT “, an insight to the true nature of reality. (As far as I know, He is not a practicing Buddhist)
He rushed to write an article titled: Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore? Wines have changed and so have our palates. This was posted in his column drinking out loud in the wine Spectator web site, read it on:
“My greatest wine dream, was a wine cellar, so full that I could easily forget about whole cases of wine for years at a time, the better to let them age to a fantasized perfection. That dream came true… I was motivated, obsessed even, by a vision of what might be called futuristic beauty. How soaringly beautiful it would be in 15 or 20 years! I wasn’t wrong—then. But I wouldn’t be right for today. What’s changed? Surely me of course.(He says), I’ve had decades of wine drinking to discover that my fantasized wine beauty only rarely became a reality. But I had to find that out for myself. And I’m glad I did…. In recent years it’s become obvious that an ever greater number of wines that once absolutely required extended aging no longer do”
Really? And if so, I am quite sure that if only one odd GREAT wine on his “list of grandeur”, it was still worth it. I bet you that this is the only wine he really remembers most, a memory that focuses on the finest, minute detail of taste, flavor, aroma and even appearance, from all the other hundreds even thousands of wines he had since 1976. After all, he had all the great wines of the 60’s 70’s 80’s and 90’s of the 20th century to sample and enjoy. He continues in saying: “Simply put, most of today’s fine wines—not all, mind you—will reach a point of diminishing returns on aging after as few as five years of additional cellaring after release. Stretch that to a full 10 years of additional aging and I daresay you will have embraced fully 99 percent of all the world’s wines, never mind how renowned or expensive”.
I agree that less than 1 percent of world wines are really Great, but how many bottles of wine is 1%? Well, in 2011 248 million hectoliters of wine were produced, 1 hectoliter = 100 liters, that is 24 trillion 800 million liters of wine, more than 33 trillion bottles, one percent of which is 330 million great bottles! each year! That is a lot of great wines (if 1% is an accurate measure according to Kramer). Between us 1% of excellence in anything is reasonable, when counting the number of wine writers or any other group of professionals who really know what they are talking about (1% would be just right). When excellence is the sought after, high quality of 1% is a very good starting point, and ultimately this is not such a small quantity. Allow me to beg to differ yet again, on the “5-10 years at the most will improve by aging” maybe this is the best American wines can get to (I am no expert on American wines so I will take Mr. Kramer’s word for it. Is it the trends in new world winemaking methods that initiated Kramer’s Enlightenment? Is it an American way of always looking at their own as a reference for the best of the rest? or maybe it is the odd, rather new “varietal taste” that had led to this horrific conclusion?
He continues: “Well, what about them old great Old world wines (he lists French, Italian from great wine regions). Yes, all of those wines and still others, such as German and Alsatian Rieslings, Napa Valley Cabernets and Hungarian Tokajis, reward aging. But let me tell you something: With only a handful of ultra traditionalist exceptions, the modern versions of even these wines don’t require anywhere near as much aging as their forebears.”
And I beg to differ again, after all these “ultra traditionalist exceptions”, are the reference wines for all “great wines” of the present and future, the summit all those “modern versions” strive to achieve, copy, imitate, taste like, feel like, affect our senses like… of course, most imitations are “groupies” of the real thing. They may succeed in each and every aspect of excellence separately but Alas fail to stand out as a complete product, lacking the overall balance that separates between the many: good, very good, excellent and EXTRAORDINARY wines.
“… it’s that fine wines have universally changed, sometimes radically so. And our tastes have changed, too… Modern wine offers us a fuller, richer, more rewarding view sooner. Think of an old oil painting carefully and respectfully cleaned of an obscuring varnish, allowing both color and texture to leap out almost three-dimensionally, and you’ve got it.
Well, I think the beauty of an old painting is in the craftsmanship rather than it’s cleanliness. Please do not clean or fix Michelangelo’s or Da Vinci’s work, don’t fix the Sphinx’s broken nose and don’t tell me that modern wines can even be compared with the good old traditional wines of the old world made by hundreds of beacon bearers around the world, if that’s the wines you like fine just don’t tell me “our (my) palate have changed”
The bottom line: Today’s wines are far more drinkable, far more gratifying, far more rewarding when drunk younger than their counterparts of 20 years ago.Can they age as long? Yes, I think they can. But that’s not the issue. Rather, the key question is: Do they need to? I think not. Only a very small handful of even the best wines truly require more than five years aging—10 years tops—in a cool space.
I find most “modern wines” harsh, over alcoholic, lacking in Elegance, Finesse and Balance, still they are designed to fit a general taste those so called modern winemakers “brainwashed” their consumers to like, basically they are sales orientated and I expect respected wine critics not to fall in the same trap which is a PR stunt directed at wine novices rather than “wine experts”.
Of course there are wines today that stubbornly withhold their favors, such as Vintage Port and those few white wines that do not go through malolactic fermentation, such as Trimbach Rieslings, Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay or the white Burgundies of Maison Louis Jadot.
How can you put in one sentence Wine Houses that make very few wines mostly single vineyards (Trimbach make only 4 different wines) to Maison Louis Jadot (with all due respect) that produces approximately 150 different wines each year many of which from the general area?
…I am now convinced that today’s wine lover is well advised to buy fine wines, cellar them in a cool space for five years—10 years, tops—and then drink them in secure confidence that the great majority of their full-dimensional goodness is available to you. After that, it’s all just fantasy—and the very real likelihood of an increasingly diminishing return on your already delayed gratification.
Kramer describes in one of his books how he began his career as a wine writer in 1976, then a food writer of a weekly paper, in a meeting with his publisher. As the advertising department had altered the food page contents to include a “wine of the week” column, to the advertisers’ approval, Kramer was told that he would write this new column. Kramer resisted, saying, “But I don’t know anything about wine”, but the publisher replied, “That’s all right. Neither does anyone else”. Kramer went on to become a respected wine writer yet I hope his publisher did not convince him, because I for one do know quite a few who know A LOT about wine! Most of who have a gift of extra sensitive sense of taste and smell and flavour, I envy them from time to time and know that they do poses a gift that make them better judges of overall quality of wine in a broader sense than I would ever achieve.
Kramer once criticized wine critics in his New York Sun column, pointing to “almost desperate attempt by some of today’s wine tasting potentates to bolster their credibility by suggesting a physical superiority”. Kramer summarized that, “suggesting a linkage of taste buds to wine judgment is like confusing eyesight with insight”. Robinson later addressed the issue in an article that suggested Kramer may not have read Robinson’s own account before publishing his column, stressing that to suggest physical superiority “was the last thing [she] was attempting” (from Wikipedia)
Since Jancis Robinson cannot suggest physical superiority herself, let me say that without a doubt she and a few others I know do poses it, they should not be ashamed with the gift they possess, it is a blessing, Kramer and I can only be envious! Some people poses better sensibility in various sense organs you must admit you heard of people with absolute pitch, perfect pitch when it comes to the sense of hearing/sound, some people have a perfect sense of smell or taste and when combined with knowledge be it perfumes or wine or food, they are better judges! Their vocabulary is richer!
Thank God for wine writers like Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, if only more and more people will be convinced in this assertive fallacy, more well aged and sublime wines will be left for us wine lovers (of excellent aged wines whose palates have not changed overnight) at more sensible prices. I for one, promise not to “touch” wines from their list, as long as they leave my 1% of suitable wines to enter the “aged wines” list alone. All the wines in my “top ever wine list” that I remember with pleasure and longing, are wines of well over 15 years of “aging”.
Wine is a live commodity, it keeps changing in time and the ones that change for the better are worth all the patience and endurance, they are the hope of every winemaker, the completion of his aspirations and his expression as an artist of wine making and not simply a maker of wine.
Kramer by the way is the guy who wrote: “How to Really Taste Wine, The six most important words in wine tasting” He very sensibly lists: Complexity, Texture, Midpalate Density, Proportion, Finesse and Balance as his “six pillars of wine tasting wisdom”…quite a good reading (and writing) http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/47792 , I do not know what came over him recently but when one has many followers/readers, they should be careful with the effect of the written word on the less informed.
I beg to differ is: a polite way of saying that you disagree with something that someone has said (from the free dictionary dot com) and so my friends, allow me to BEG TO DIFFER! (I hope Mr. Kramer will take it in the polite way it is intended), I agree to disagree!