ONE of the good things about drinking red wine is the amelioration of misanthropy. You become more expansive and forgiving of the frailties of others and, sometimes, even of your own.
This expansion of the quality of mercy is enhanced when the quality of the red wine is also enhanced. Kindness visits.
A friend was recently leaving Canberra on an extended vacation. And, coincidentally, I was cleaning out a corner cupboard where, amongst other things, I was moving wine bottles from its depths to a newly acquired wine fridge. Unexpectedly there lurked, in a quaint coating of grime, a 2005 Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz. Before judging my housekeeping as Adams-family oriented, let me explain that the dust came from my former storage unit where this bottle was one of the few left after thieves gallingly ransacked my then wine collection (see how misanthropy so easily rises up!).
How to make someone feel special: serve up a 13-year-old shiraz matched with roast lamb at their farewell dinner. My guest assisted me to decant the wine. The colour was good, no browning or deterioration from the dark red of full maturity. The cork was intact. The bouquet cigar-box and heady fruit. There were only a few lees that remained in the bottle – this is the sediment that results from tannins reacting with other chemicals to form larger molecules that sink to the bottom of the bottle or coat it with sediment.
Then the first taste. It exceeded all expectations. It was velvet and mouth-filling fruit, only a hint of tannin and a smidge of oak. Age had certainly taken what I bought years ago as a middle-order wine into something quite extraordinary, where smooth hung out like an old hipster.
My friend expostulated: “What happens when you put this stuff away – this just tastes so different from the shiraz that I have been drinking, you know a good 2014 drop. Age makes this better.”
Indeed, it does. In the process of ageing, the tannins polymerise. In my limited understanding, tannins are polyphenolic compounds that bind to and precipitate proteins with a “longer chain” that taste different.
Over time, as this occurs, there is a softening of the flavours and, as I said, the development of lees. The flavours become leathery and less fruit driven but the complexity of the chemical reactions is something that is still not fully understood. After ageing or with low-tannin wines you don’t have the sensation that all of the moisture has been sucked from your mouth. You keep coming back to an ever-decreasing volume: there seems to be a correlation between quality and the rapidity of the wine’s consumption. The aged wine becomes the devil with trousers on and that is why red wines, when properly aged, are much more expensive than young wines.
The other benefit then of drinking wines of age is that, at least after the second glass, you can see yourself reflected in the change: no longer are you the sharp, acidic, mouth-puckering kid of yesterday. Instead you are the velvet smooth, softer and mellow older gentleman.
And that reminds me: a man in his mid-nineties walks into a bar. He finds a seat next to a good-looking, younger woman in her mid-eighties, at the most. Trying to remember his best pick-up line, he says, “So tell me, do I come here often?”
Her reaction is unrecorded but we hope she was forgiving. And that brings us back to where I started:
“Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” – Samuel Johnson.