"Wine improves with age - the older I get the better I like it …."
"There are no great wines, only great bottles ….."
Yeah, I love those quotes …..
If anyone ever asks me what kind of wine to cellar for an event some time way in the future, I'm going to emphatically recommend Riesling - because every time I've had an 'old' Riesling, I am more than pleasantly surprised.
Most people who ask the question are the parents of a new born child. They want a special bottle of wine for the kid's 21st birthday party or some such thing. And it turns out they are often told to buy a Port because Port is a particularly age-worthy wine that will stand the test of time.
But as I am childless and so are several of my wine-drinking buddies. We never bought wines to cellar specifically for 21 years or more. We never bought Port for a special occasion. We just bought wines to cellar, because when we started collecting wines, that was what you did. Or rather we bought wines that we hoped would improve in the cellar - but it didn't take long to find out that many of them didn't. So for us, our event of the future, is a 'past-it' party.
A 'past-it' party is the type of party where you take along bottles from your cellar that you really think you should have opened years before. You take along several bottles and you know that after opening and tasting one bottle, if it unanimously fits the 'past-it' description, you will tip the rest of the contents down the sink. You know you will do this without regret, then move on to the next bottle.
Everyone relates stories of how they came across the wines. You hear tales of visiting the cellar door and buying a case of the house red - a wine that tasted good at the time but the following week, when a bottle was opened to try, it was tannic, green and stalky. The salesman said it would improve with time the remaining bottles were stored in a corner of the cellar to gather dust.
Then there could be that special bottle - the bottle you bought when you knew a bit more. But there was never the right occasion to drink it. So it too gathered dust until you read Michael Cooper's wine guide and saw a symbol alongside that vintage to indicate the wine had peaked.
Our 'past-it' party on Saturday night brought our some duds and some treasures, and apart from a delicious 16-year old Victorian shiraz (Taminick Cellars Shiraz 1989), the star wine was undoubtably Riesling - and it was a 25-year old Riesling to boot.
It was Corbans Private Bin Auslese 1980, a gift to my sister many years before. She thought it was going to be definitely past it, especially when she pulled the cork to find it various shades of black, but she couldn’t have been more wrong. Fortunately the cork had a tight seal on the bottom 5 mm nearest the wine and there was no oxidation at all.
Corbans Private Bin Auslese 1980 was amber coloured in the glass and initially smelt a little nutty with a honeyed overtone. Then in the palate it had a dried out fruity flavour, like the old-fashioned dark dried apricots that are rich and concentrated and full of flavour. But the mouth was quickly enveloped with a luscious apricot sweetness with toffee and spices, an earthy nuance and a rich honeyed finish with raisins and apricots filling the aftertaste that lingered beautifully.
The following day the wine was just as good - opening it had not deteriorated it at all. In fact it seemed even more honeyed, even more luscious and with good acidity still prevailing in the wine, the finish was clean.
I studied the bottle to find out more and the back label told a little story.
This "first" from Corbans embodies all the fine characteristics of Mosel and Rheingau Auslese. Vinted from selected late harvested varieties (from which all unripe grapes are rejected) the residual sweetness has ensured a generous varietal flavour and smooth fruity finish. Riesling varieties from Corbans Henderson estates were selected for this fine Private Bin wine.
Cellarmaster Comments: As is the German tradition harvesting of grapes for this wine was delayed to ensure that the high concentration of natural sugar and flavour endowed this Auslese with and intensity of taste and a golden honey-like aroma. Corbans Private Bin Auslese can be enjoyed with light dishes, particularly desserts. Devotees of semi-sweet full wines may, however, prefer to enjoy this wine on its own. Serve lightly chilled.
When they talked about 'Riesling' varieties, I surmised that it may have been a blend of what in those days was called Rhine Riesling and Riesling Sylvaner - the latter a synonym for Muller Thurgau. However there was also some Grey Riesling growing in the area at the time. The wine had 11.4% alcohol by volume.
We are told that to cellar wines you should have a perfect environment for the job - that is a cool dark place that is vibration-free and humidity controlled. Well, this wine did not have that luxury. Sure it was in a dark place, in a box under the house, but for years my sister lived in a road where buses and trucks would rumble past and give the house a good shake every now and then. As for humidity - well, anyone who lives in Auckland knows what our humidity is like, especially in the summer.
So Riesling is my choice of wine for cellaring - a well-balanced Riesling, either sweet or dry. The dry Rieslings seem to develop a toasty richness. Keep it in a cool, dark place - not necessarily temperature controlled and not necessarily vibration free, but away from slugs and snails so the label stays intact. Then bring it out 20 years later at your 'past-it' party and be pleasantly surprised.
© Sue Courtney
11 September 2005