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July 1, 2016

Age Before Beauty

 The ability to age is one of the accepted tenets of wine appreciation. That may seem oddly disconnected from reality given that the vast majority of wines are consumed within days, if not hours, of purchase. Yet it is a truth that yields spectacular results for those with the patience and wisdom to wait on a great wine.

That truth was driven home to me recently when I rummaged through the wine cellar and selected two very different wines from the 2003 vintage for the evening meal.
Although both were from the same year, it was literally a tale of two vintages. The occasion was a birthday celebration that called for, in my humble opinion, classic red wines with at least 10 years of age.

The first was the 2003 St. Supery Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a cool year in the Napa Valley, and though the Dollarhide vineyard is in one of Napa’s warmer pockets, the result was still an elegant wine with firm tannins in its youth. Some critics more attuned to ultra-ripe red wines from Napa weren’t very high on the vintage, but I’ve always found it to be exceptional.

The 2003 Dollarhide had aged beautifully after 13 years. Brimming with primary fruit notes of blackberry and cassis, it was a deep purple color. The tannins were still firm, and secondary aromas that come with age were at a whisper rather than a roar. Delicious now, I judged it to be good to go for another ten years at least, but kinder and gentler now, and infinitely more interesting, than when it was first bottled.

The second wine was a 2003 Marcarini ‘La Serra’ Barolo, from the hottest vintage in memory in northern Italy’s Piedmont region. I was touring Sicily in southern Italy when the heat wave struck and remember being astonished that the temperature in Milan in July was higher than in Palermo.

In many of Europe’s wine regions the excessive heat ripened the grapes prematurely, achieving high sugar levels quickly, resulting in wines with higher alcohol. The ability of wines to age has a good deal with the balance between fruit, tannin, acid and alcohol, and for much of Europe the grapes were not in balance.

I held hope for the Barolo district, however, because Barolo has historically been among the most age-worthy of wines and Marcarini is among the top producers.
I held my breath as I poured the wine and noticed the brown color in the glass.

Nothing too unusual there. Red wines lose color with age and typically begin the browning stage around the rim of the glass. But the color was more advanced than I would have expected from a 13-year-old Barolo.

Nevertheless, the first sip revealed that its extended time in the cellar had worked the usual magic, albeit earlier than I would have liked. The primary fruit aromas of a young Barolo had given way to secondary aromas of secondary aromas of complexity, notably leather, balsamic and truffle notes with just a hint of black cherry in the background.

It was a glorious tasting experience.

While it is true that aging wines can be risky, and that not all wines age well or even improve with age, but the reward when you stumble across a truly age-worthy wine is great indeed.

Follow Robert on Twitter @wineguru.
Posted by Robert Whitley at 1:01 PM