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January 04, 2010


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What a good bunch of wines you guys put away this weekend! Evan wins again I think with the old Syrah. As it happens, I used to sell this wine (Graillot Crozes) years ago when I was in the wholesale trade in Philly. I had the last bottle of it just a couple of years ago. If there is a more prestigeous vineyard designated Crozes-Hermitage made than Alain Graillot's Guiraude, I can't think of one. This bottle is the very definition of well-made Syrah on the plateaus of Crozes-Hermitage.

It doesn't actually surprise me it lasted 15 years so easily - FLX reds and Northern Rhones will last for many years if they possess some tannic structure and supportive levels of fruit. Balance of acidity and fruit, buttressed with tannin will keep most wines alive - but only nobility like Syrah, Cab, Pinot, etc. will actually IMPROVE with age.

Living a long time and improving with age are two different very issues.

Jim -

Very well said, and a point that we often discuss (staying alive versus actual improvement). Based on my experience, here's my take on that issue vis a vis Finger Lakes wine:

-Rieslings can improve, but only the top bottlings have shown that ability. It would be silly to buy any old FLX riesling off the shelf and expect it to improve with time. But wines from Red Newt, Sheldrake, Dr. Frank, Wiemer, etc have shown an evolutionary improvement. In particular I have a '99 Wiemer Late Harvest Riesling in my cellar -- I am seeking ways of multiplying a bottle's contents, as I don't want to extinguish it. My last tasting of it (this past summer) showed gorgeous brioche, sweet almond cake, lemon curd and lime. And while the new release bottling of that wine is very enjoyable, it needs time before it goes there.

The reds haven't yet shown the promise of bottle age improvement. The select few top bottlings have shown an impressive structure that can hang in there for many years, but most wouldn't say it's a step up. That's why I'm extremely curious about some of the very best '07 bottlings.

Now, I should point out that I absolutely love a wine's secondary and tertiary notes. I don't mind when a wine goes "past peak" because I dig the loamy, truffly notes that come more to the surface. So I might dig an older Finger Lakes red than most people. But I still wouldn't argue it's improved since release, especially by most consumers' definition.

(And regarding the Crozes, I'm interested to know the stylistic profile of the modern release. Have you had recent vintages?)

I haven't had the wine in recent vintages, no, I would suspect they are guardians of the old style though. That's interesting since back in 1989 they were the "new style" of Crozes-Hermitage - meaning they wines were excellent and well made, not throw-aways or also rans to "Hermitage".

Going past peak really is a matter of taste, you rightly point out. It reminds me of an old joke I heard in this business somewhere: When is the right time to drink a wine? The Frenchman drinks his wines too young because he's afraid the socialist government will take it away. The Englishman drinks them too old because he loves to invite his friends down to his cellar to admire all of the dusty old bottles. The American drinks his wine at exactly the right time...because he doesn't know any better.

Wondering what a FL or Niagara wine will taste like in 15 years is like wondering what they will taste like in zero gravity. Most of us will never know. :)

Just had an 07 Graillot C-H tonight. Pepper, red fruit, earth, and some definite barnyard action. I love northern Rhones for their embodiment of rusticity + elegance, and Graillot is genius at this. Great post, Evan. Note to self: put away some Finger Lakes reds to see what happens in 2025.

Sasha -

There is no shortage of Brett in the northern Rhone, and of course we could spin off into a thousandth discussion of whether Brett can be desirable (it can). But just wanted to note an interesting distinction in those wines, for what it's worth. Last weekend we had a 1999 Patrick Jasmin Cote-Rotie; it showed a lot of character, including bloody beef that I would not describe as Bretty. Other Cote-Roties show some unmistakable Brett. As a Northern Rhone fan, do you occasionally get that bloody, rare-meat kind of quality? I dig it, and I find it quite different than stereotypical Brett.

Regarding Finger Lakes wines, it's a fun experiment, but of course only if you trust the producer. There are only a small handful of wines that I'd even attempt to stretch for two decades or more.

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