Wine / Challenging the old story of young wine

“Being young does not necessarily mean you are vibrant; being old does not necessarily mean you are wise. It depends on the individual,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER

IN the fictional country of a short story, I’m reading that bad food is endemic.

Richard Calver.

Richard Calver.

The author determines to send that message by example and, after describing a sauce served with mussels as “stiff and gluey”, she remarks that: “We finished the meal with old apples and young wine”.

To me, that showed the depth of bias against young wines: the connection and comparison with old apples was there to demonstrate that the meal was poor.

This vinous stereotype is a counterpoint to similar beliefs about young people and older Australians that frame the increasing incidence of age discrimination highlighted in the May 2016 National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australians and Australians with Disability report. But is there truth in the correlation between youth and the undesired in wine?

As with most issues that offer up easy generalisations, the notion comes down to the particular: it depends.

Being young does not necessarily mean you are vibrant; being old does not necessarily mean you are wise. It depends on the individual. In the application of this concept to wine, I’ve found a writer who holds the same views: Terry Theise in his book “Reading Between the Wines”.

He says: “Maybe the answer is ‘yes’ if one is obliged to score on an absolute scale, but certainly not if one permits relativity and equivalence to enter the equation; for instance, a zippy, light Sancerre can be a “perfect” wine with oysters for which the higher-scoring wine is too concentrated.”

But the secret seems to be to buy quality. And in so doing, the wine will please whether it is young or old. To be blunt, there is little point in storing modest or, perhaps more harshly, mediocre wines.

As the great Somerset Maugham said: “Only a mediocre person is always at his best.” The same applies to wines, the vast majority of which are intended to be consumed very close to purchase.

Wines are being marketed with riper fruit, softer tannins and lower acidity with this consumer behaviour in mind. With acid and tannin as natural preservatives, this means that the winemaker’s intention is that they are consumed earlier.

I put the question of drinking young wine to a local winemaker.

“The tricky thing is that winemakers marketing wine intended to be drunk young are different winemakers to me,” said Frank van de Loo, of Mount Majura Vineyard.

“At a lower price point wine is made for a particular consumer segment. We look to make wines that are balanced: they may be able to be drunk young, but with time in the cellar they gain complexity but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed when young.

“There are certain wines that are delicious immediately, for example our TSG – Tempranillo, Shiraz and Graciano – which tends to be very easy to drink young because it has plenty of soft, black-fruit character.

“Essentially, there is a large percentage of wine that is bought for immediate consumption, particularly those in the $10-$15 bracket. You buy a $10 wine to drink that day. It’s about the price point,” he said.

He goes on to make the point that these wines will not improve with age. Jung would have been proud: “The wine of youth does not always clear with advancing years; sometimes it grows turbid.”


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