Over the years of wine drinking, I’ve come to meet many wine buddies and have noticed a varied range of drinking habits from many of them, especially in terms of their views on wine and their vintage years. To my younger friends, they seem to prefer younger wines, attracted by the colors, brilliance, and richness that these wines bring, completely satisfied with wines ranging anywhere from three to seven years old. The older, aged wines, on the other hand, don’t seem to bring that same appeal, aside from the occasional outstanding or long-lived exceptions of course. In contrast, the age of wines seem to be more of a topic of consideration for the older generation, preferring the aroma and depth of aged wines and quality vintages- to this crowd, wines younger than 10 or 20 years are usually not looked upon too favorably. Initially, I attributed the reason for this dichotomy to a seniority issue, where wine drinkers develop a certain eye for wine after years of tasting and comparing, but I later discovered (over a conversation with folks from the “older” generation) that there was a different explanation for this phenomenon.
A fellow wine lover, who has been drinking wine for over 10 years told me that wines today have changed. According to him, when he first came in contact with wine 10 plus years ago, aged wines (from renowned wineries, no less), were absolutely foul- bitterly tannic, and completely unbalanced to say the least. Those sort of wines would be considered undrinkable until they were at least 20 years old or more, and therefore all “quality” wines back then were wines that had aged at least 20 years. Fast forward 10 years to today, those types of wines would be equal to a modern-day wine of say, three of five years old. To wine drinkers of that generation, it is all rather shocking that people today choose to drink and appreciate wines of such a young age.
There is another school of thought from the previous generation that times have changed and tastes have changed. With the ever-quickening pace of daily life, nothing waits, and that includes wine. Tastes and preferences have shifted, seeking only the exciting, the rush, the now, and forgetting the pleasure of slowly savoring a wine that characterized the entire wine culture just a decade ago. Unwilling to “waste” time allowing the wine to breathe, many wine drinkers today want a wine that can be instantly consumed upon opening. In line with the shift of taste, culture, and perception, wines have also, as a result, changed with the times.
兩個觀點我都認同，人變了、葡萄酒也變了。葡萄酒的釀造不斷改進，由葡萄園的管理，以至釀造的工藝、技術不斷進步，新科技的加入，釀酒師能夠完全控制完成品的每一項細節，造出心目中想要的葡萄酒。在新世界葡萄酒產區，所有有利出產優質葡萄酒的條件都可滿足下，我們現在都有供應穩定的優質葡萄酒可享用。以前我們可要確定某些產區收成良好才可有好酒喝。在法國波爾多，現在幾乎每年都是Great Vintage或Good Vintage，很少會有所謂的Bad Vintage，這不是全球暖化所至，而是酒莊在不良的條件下仍可在葡萄園、收成時所下的功夫去改良出品，是技術進步的成果，好些大莊更會動用衛星測量去了解她們整個葡萄園不同部分的土壤有何不同而作出不同管理。要造出美味而又可年青時享用的葡萄酒已經毫不困難，何樂而不為呢？只要價錢合理便可了!
Both perspectives have their valid points – as people change, wines change. The process of winemaking is also continuously changing and improving; from the management of vineyards to the techniques employed, the constant surge of new technology allows winemakers to control every single detail within the winemaking process, producing the exact wines that they desire to create. In areas where New World wines are produced, all conditions needed to create a great wine can be easily met, providing a consistent flow of quality wines for all to enjoy. Back in the day, only wines from certain regions with good harvests would be deemed “worthy” of tasting, but these days, pretty much every year is a “great vintage” or “good vintage” in areas like Bordeaux, with “bad vintages” becoming an increasingly rare sight. This is not a result of global warming, but rather that most wineries are now able to control or improve on their products even during a so-called “bad year”. In an age of constant technological breakthroughs, many wineries even utilize satellite tools to survey the conditions of the soil in order to more accurately plan an appropriate management system for the vineyard. Creating a quality wine that can be enjoyed at a young age is not a difficult task today –as long as the price is right, who would say no to that?
At the same time, people’s lifestyles, tastes and needs are also constantly changing. Wine has evolved from being a beverage of the royalty and elite to being enjoyed by the masses. Wine enthusiasts back then would not flinch at pre-paying for a bottle of wine to wait ten or twenty years to drink it, but wine drinkers today hope to taste their wines as soon as possible. With the increasing demand for wine and the global accessibility to the latest wine news, the commercial aspects to wine has become one of the most crucial elements in running a wine business. To start up a vineyard from cultivation of the land to the production of actual wine takes years in itself, but to wait another 10 or 20 years for the aging process would just be too long. With newer techniques, wine just a few years in can be enjoyed today in its full, fruity richness, not too tannic, with a long, lingering finish, allowing more of us to enjoy the pleasures of wine tasting and appreciation.
Some may wonder whether such “perfect” wines of today would be able to age as gracefully as its predecessors? Would say, a 2000 Bordeaux be able to age like the 1900 Bordeaux? It’s hard to say at this point, as it usually requires at least over a decade before one can even start to judge, but according to past experience, there have been instances where wines from supposedly “good vintage” years did not age as well as their counterparts from allegedly “bad vintage” years. Just look at 1947 and 1948- from time to time, there have been occasions where we see underestimated vintage years resurfacing into our radars. I firmly believe that wines which have been meticulously cultivated, grown, harvested, and produced, along with superior terroir, will nevertheless continue to evolve within their bottles, transforming into “dream wines” that tug at your heartstrings. How many bottles of dream wine have you been storing up?
(published in 2011 Jan Issue of Cru Magazine)