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Raise your glass of Belgian beer and have a moment of silence to remember the venerable Michael Jackson, esteemed English journalist, author, and critic of all things related to beer.
Michael was a frequent contributer to beer periodicals and to his Beer Hunter website, and he was the author of several successful beer tomes, including the long-running Pocket Guide to Beer and the thorough and excellent Beer Companion. It is not hyperbole to say that Michael was a key figure in ushering in the ‘new beer renaissance’, the effects of which are still being felt in the U.S. in its continued proliferation of excellent micro breweries and small craft-beer brewpubs.
My friends and I viewed Michael as a bit of a legend. As English Literature majors in undergrad, who also brewed beer… well, it doesn’t take a large stretch of the imagination to envision how important an influence this guy was on us.
Any of you that have ever purchased wine in one state and tried to ship it to another will surely appreciate the efforts of Free The Grapes, a grassroots coalition of wine producers, retailers, and consumers that are fighting the sometimes arcane and always anachronistic state laws that prohibit the direct-to-consumer wine sales.
What I’ve always found especially troubling (and I have it worse than most, as I live in PA where the laws are really prohibitive and the state has a powerful monopoly on all almost wine buying) is that the wine wholesaler industry is so woefully behind the times. Anyone who has ever shopped on Amazon.com should appreciate the power of direct-to-consumer sales. It’s not the wave of the future, it’s the status quo of the present.
And yet, the state-run and wholesaler industries refuse to adapt their business models, in an effort to protect their profits. I’m not necessarily against protecting a company bottom line, but not when the trade-off is reduced service and choice for the average Joe wine consumer. It’s like we’re being held hostage – and in PA, they not only restrict the choices of what wine you can buy, they charge you a premium for the inconvenience!
If, like me, you live in a state that trends towards Communism in its wine buying options, you should check out Free the Grapes and use their website to contact your state legislators to let them know how you feel.
Finally – if you are lucky enough to live in one of the more enlightened states that does allow you to purchase wine from wherever you like, I recommend checking out NY Chateau Frank‘s Celebre Rose (a nice and fun bubbly), as well as the stellar Napa 1999 Pine Ridge Cab Sav (excellent balance overall and a magic dried prune fruit profile).
Those of you interested in both art AND wine can head out to NYC between now and March 13 to take in the Mouton Rothschild wine label exhibit at Sotheby’s. I traveled to NYC to check it out this past weekend as a bit of an early birthday gift.
For those who are not students of the drama that is the Bordeaux wine region of France: Chateau Mouton Rothschild is considered one of the finest wine estates in France for producing Bordeaux style, Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines.
It has a history of ‘firsts’ , most notably being the first (and to date only) chateau to have its rank elevated from “Second Growth” (bestowed in 1855) to “First Growth” status (in 1973). It was also the first Bord’x chateau to produce a Napa-valley collaborative wine (Opus One, with Robert Mondavi), and the first to commission and/or feature major artists’ work on its wine labels (hence the exhibit), a tradition that continues to this day (the most recent 2004 vintage featuring a watercolor by Prince Charles).
As for their wines, most have measured up to the fine works of art adorning their labels, most notably the 1945 and 1982 vintages, both considered to be among the best wines ever produced (in the history of modern wine making, that is).
The exhibit is not lengthy and if you are detailed-oriented it may take you an hour max to go through it – but the combination of fine modern art and very fine wine is well worth the diversion if you’re NYC-bound soon. And to top it all off, if you’re also among the world’s millionaires you can head over to one of the many NYC wine shops afterwards and celebrate your cultured self with a bottle of Harlan Estate (some vintages we found for the low, low price of… $1200 per bottle :-).
So… what does a 40 year old wine taste like?
This past New Year’s Eve, Ker & I stopped by Cosimo to grab a glass of bubbly with Jason (the Wine Director). After a bit, Jason paused during our conversation at the bar and gave me that look – the look that serious only wine geeks give each other when they have SSS (some serious [email protected]*t.
It’s the “let me show you what we’ve got in the decanter, but don’t tell anyone else, man” look.
They had cracked open a bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour. I’d never had a 40 year old wine before, and Anthony (the venerable Cosimo proprietor) was keen, so Ker & I had a taste. The experience further convinced me of what I’ve been saying for a long time now: Most people shouldn’t age wine.
Now, I am NOT saying that I did not like this wine (I loved it actually); and I’m not saying the wine wasn’t aged / stored perfectly (it was). What I am saying is that most people in the U.S. would fine this wine “interesting” (i.e., “not worth the price tag”).
Why? Because our tastes in this country are like our wars: Big. Bold. In-yo-FACE!
My tasting notes on this wine read like a textbook definition of classic “claret” for the Brits, which is to say that it looks the list of most nuclear family’s kitchen garbage bag contents: cigar, black nuts, pencil shavings, game, “slim jim,” earth (aka ‘dirt’).
I don’t know too many people that would plunk down the serious cash it requires to purchase aged first growth Bordeaux after seeing that list. It wouldn’t be enough to add that this is all normal stuff for a well-aged Bordeaux, or to talk about everything that was sooooo right with this wine (like the delicate tannins and fruit notes on the finish, which was long and strong and lasted until about 4PM the next day I think), or how the integration of all the components showed that this wine aged so beautifully. Most folks in the States simply would not have the patience to wait 40 years for a wine to reach peak maturity anyway – and they might not be happy with the results if they did anyway. Because our tastes are different from that of the Brits.
So who’s right – us, or the Brits?
We’re both right.
The moral of the story: don’t sweat aging / storage of your wine too much. 98% of it will not benefit from aging anyway, and you’ll enjoy it better now while it’s fresh, fruity, and in your face. If you decide you like red wine and want to develop your palate, start experimenting and aging to find out the balance YOU like best between big fruit and lots of tannin vs. the earthy, meaty flavors that will develop with aging.
There’s no right wine answer on aging – apart from your preference. And you’ll only learn your preference after experimenting (not exactly a chore considering all of the great wine to be had out there!).