Past masters: some wines are ready to drink only after you die

Lifestyle

Past masters: some wines are ready to drink only after you die

The trick is to find a happy balance since most wine is drunk within 24 hours of purchase

Michael Fridjhon

Old wine is not to everyone’s taste. A whole generation of winemakers has grown up assuming that the primary flavours of youthful wine is what the market wants. The result has been a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t know or understand the taste of old wine, it’s unlikely you will care to make wine which will be at its peak years after you’ve entered the great production cellar in the sky.

In the early 2000s I spent time at Chateau Margaux with the late Paul Pontallier, selecting wines for his presentation at the annual Wine Experience I used to host. After tasting several vintages spanning five decades we settled on the 1959 as the final wine in the lineup. Paul had already been directeur of the chateau for 20 years, during which he had produced several legendary vintages of the great Bordeaux. However, as we tasted the 1959, he remarked: “I hope to make one wine in my lifetime which will give pleasure like this many years after I’ve died.”

This ambition is easier to fulfil when you are responsible for running a top estate in a region famed for the longevity of its wines. Thomas Jefferson imported quantities of the 1787 Chateau Margaux after his sojourn in France as US ambassador. By the 19th century the top Bordeaux reds were already considered vinous investibles. This in turn meant that they were not being made for instant consumption...

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