Two weekends ago, I joined a wine dinner with a group of wine lovers in a blind tasting setting. The theme was “10+ years old world” wines. We had two wines from Rhone and two wines from Bordeaux. Wines were all lovely for sure. It also provided an interesting comparison between them, which got me thinking about a classic topic in wine – what is the prime drinking window?
Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee des Cadettes 2000 – once poured into glass, the perfume of the wine captivated the audience. It was actually mistaken by the group as an expressive Burgundy wine. After an hour or so, as the wine opened up, the ripe fruit palate from the Southern France began to emerge and gave herself away as a love CdP. It had the structure, taste, balance and wood integration, making the wine very enjoyable now but still has many years to go.
Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee 2007 – expressive and powerful with plenty of ripe fruit, a good representation of a solidly made CdP. (Well this wine didn’t quite stick the wine theme, but it provided a lovely contrast for the night.) Immediately, we all felt it was a bit too early to drink this wine as the tannin was quite dominant. This was a bit surprising as the wine was predominately made with Grenache (85%), a varietal with little tannin. Was it the heavy use of wood? The wine was aged in old foudre (very large barrel), which theoretically would not have imparted too much tannin either. The reason was probably due to the fact that the wine was made without destemming, which should help provide the tannin and structure for the wine longevity.
Chateau Calon Segur 1988 – definitely at its best time for consumption. Classic aged Bordeaux, well-balanced with rich and full-body. It was an excellent wine and enjoyable throughout the night. If you see any of this in the market, no need for a second thought, just try it.
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 1995 – a very interesting wine. Without any decanting, the wine presented a seductive aroma once poured into the glass. However, the flesh was not there immediately. The wine felt light; to an extent that it almost seemed hollow in the mid-palate. With a bit of patience like an hour or so, the wine body began to form. It turned into a beautiful lady with everything you want from a nice LMHB. It continued to improve throughout the dinner. Was the wine a bit too young for consumption? Maybe. Was the wine enjoyable? Hell yeah! It was very fun to see how this wine evolved just during the 3-hour period.
Afterwards, I began to ponder on the classic question in wine: when (what) is the prime drinking window? Were we at the right time to drink these wines? I decided to defer to this tough question to the expert. Below are what Robert Parker suggested:
Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee 2007, drinking window: 2010-2030
Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee des Cadettes 2000, drinking window: 2005-2018
Calon Segur 1988, drinking window: 1997-2020
All these sound right. We were a bit early for the Pegau Reservee 2007 but had the pleasure to enjoy both La Nerthe Cadettes 2000 and Calon Segur 1988 at their very prime, mature stage.
La Mission Haut Brion 1995 – this was tricky. Parker actually reviewed this wine 5 times since his first tasting from barrel in Apr 1996. At first, it was believe to be a wine with only short life, and he suggested a drinking window of 1996-2011. In following year, quality seemed to be better after bottling, and suggested window was adjusted to 2000-2020. In 2002, the wine seemed to have gone through magical change in the subsequent 5 years, and Parker scored it at a much higher 94-point (vs. 90-92 previously) with suggested drinking window of 2003-2030. In 2012, the most recent tasting, the wine was re-rated again at 95+ points, but was considered not ready yet with a much later suggested drinking window at 2020-2035. What a change the wine has gone through since her birth!
Should my friends and I be accused as a “baby-killer” to have opened the LMHB 1995? I don’t think so at all. Essentially, we all have different taste preference and the wine actually changes throughout her life as well. There is really no universal yardstick, and even the most respected critics cannot generalize or predict when’s to drink the wine. Based on our tasting, we were all sure that the wine has many more years to go. When it becomes mature, it would provide a different sort of pleasure but would be anything but the same fun experience we had that night, seeing her amazing evolution in just few hours.