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New Versus Old – Is Wine World Upside Down?

March 4, 2016 12 comments

This post is an entry for the 23rd Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC23), with the theme of “New”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance.

New. We all crave, adore and worship new in our lives. New experience. New restaurant. New baby. New job. New car. New iPhone. New house. New puppy. Add “new” to practically any object, and it instantly becomes something exciting.

The “new” is not limited to the things and objects. New ways constantly appear, and we embrace them wholeheartedly. New technologies and new processes are born every day. Self-driving cars. 3D printers. We store our pictures in the cloud. It’s all new, new, new around us.

We love new so much that “old” becomes almost en expletive. We might attach “old” to the experiences, but not to the objects! Think about it. When you are looking for the used car, the dealer will refer to such a car exactly like that – used. She might even say “almost new” or “gently used”. But you will never hear from the dealer that they want to offer you this old car – unless you are in the market for antiques  – but even then “old” descriptor will be avoided. Or let’s say you are looking for a house. Ever heard agent saying “let me show you this old house“? We learn to be afraid of the world “old”, as we don’t want to get old ourselves.

Ridge Vineyards 60 years old vineTalking about wine world, the word “new” is exciting as in any other aspect of our lives. In essence, the whole wine world is built on the concept of new – ever year  there is a new harvest, and a new wine will be produced from the grapes of that new harvest. New labels are made for the wines. New wineries are founded. New tasting rooms are built. New vineyards are planted. New processes are invented to press the grapes, to ferment them, to preserve wines, to bottle. New packaging (wine in a can, anyone? wine on tap?). New is a most prominent concept in the wine world.

But the concept of “old” is ohh so different when it comes to wines. “Old” in the wine world commands such a respect that we might not find in any other areas of human life. Let’s start in the vineyard. So you planted a new vineyard? Great. Now you need to wait until it will become old, as for the most of vineyards you need to wait at least 3-4 years before they will produce fruit suitable for winemaking. And that vineyard has to become old in the natural way, just by letting the time pass – there is no magic bullet.

To top it off, the older vineyard gets, the better it is. Ever seen the words “old vines” on the bottle? May be viñas viejas? Or how about vieilles vignes? These words mean exactly what they say – that this wine was made from the grapes harvested from the vineyards which had been around for a long time – 20 years, 30 years, 60 years, 100 years. The term “old vines” is typically not regulated, so there is no way of knowing exactly how old the vines are – but often the back label will give you that information. Very often that “age” is also reflected in the price – the older the car, the less it costs – but it is exactly opposite in the wines – the older the vines are, more expensive wine becomes (older vines yield less grapes with higher flavor concentration  = tastier wine).

“Old” doesn’t stop in the vineyard. Lots and lots of wines are aged before they are released – both by law and by the desire of the winery. By law, non-vintage Champagne have to age for a minimum of 15 month, and vintage Champagne for at least 3 years – in reality, most of NV is aged for 2-3 years, and vintage is typically 4-10. By law, Rioja Gran Reserva requires at least 5 years of aging before the release. By law, Brunello Rieserva can be sold not earlier than 6 years after the harvest. Many of the wineries in California offer so called “library releases”, when the wines are aged for you in the winery’s cellar in the ideal conditions. Some wineries in Bordeaux sell their wines only 10 years after the harvest, including First Growth Chateau Latour, which recently declared that “vintages will be released when the chateau believes they are ready to drink”. Let’s go down all the way – how about some 100 year old Para Vintage Tawny from Seppeltsfield in Australia, which is released … yes, 100 years after the vintage date.

It is not that “old” is unquestionable winner in the world of wines. More often than not, “new” and “old” are clashing  – sometimes in amicable ways, sometimes – not so much. One of the simplest “conflicts” – new oak versus used oak. This, of course, is what making winemakinng an art, as there is no hard and fast rule to when to age wine in old oak barrels versus new oak – each has its own benefits. Another form of the simple “conflict” is an internal fight which oenophile endures trying to decide when the wine from her cellar is ready to drink – there is also lots of good bad advice coming from all the wine professionals and the media – and we still are trying to figure that magical moment when the wine is perfectly “old“, or rather “aged” as we like to say, to maximize our pleasure. And then you got all those violent clashes between old and new – think about “traditional Barolo” versus “new style Barolo”. Think about fight for the Super Tuscans, attempts to introduce the new grapes in Brunello, or just any winemaker trying to do something new against the rules of the appellation.

Now, what do you think? Is wine world upside down for the new and old? Is there anything else which humans do where old commands equal or greater respect than new? Cheers!


 

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