"You’re not getting older. You’re getting better."
That was the slogan for "Clairol Loving Care Hair Color" in a pretty slick TV advertising campaign during the 1970s, created to make those who were a bit long in the tooth feel a little less so.
And that nugget of supposed wisdom could be applied to wine as well. In fact, older and better often go hand in hand when it comes to the fermented fruit of the vine. At least that’s been my experience — to this point.
But recently, something happened to make me change my mind, or at least be open to the possibility that the older/better equation doesn’t necessarily add up all the time.
Just a note: Most of the wines stocked by our local Liquor Marts are designed to be drunk right away, or at least within six to nine months — perhaps, in some cases, up to two years — of purchase. But generally, I find if a really good wine — emphasis on ‘really good wine’ — is three years old as opposed to just one, the three-year-old wine will be slightly — and sometimes significantly — better.
Again, that’s what I thought. Until a few weeks ago.
My dear friend, Bruce, gifted me with a bottle of wine out of the blue, and while it was most unnecessary, it turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. Because I really, REALLY liked this wine. After I tried it, I went out and bought another six bottles.
But here’s where things got very, very interesting.
The Luis Felipe Edwards Family Selection Chardonnay from Chile that I’d received from Bruce was the 2011 vintage. When I first smelled it, I thought, "If the flavour follows through on the aroma — Wow!"
And it did! (Way to go, Bruce!) I loved its peach, pear and orange blossom notes, and its hint of oak (the wine is partially aged in oak barrels). While I enjoyed the first glass, it had had time to chill even more when I went back for seconds, and there was a fairly distinctive lemon flavour in the colder version of the wine. And while I liked that, I actually left the wine out of the fridge to warm up a bit so I could get back to the softer flavours mentioned above.
(An aside: I, who can’t abide white wines warm — and used to prefer them at temperatures just this side of ice, rather than merely ‘chilled’ — am finally coming around to what wine experts have been telling me for years, which is I drink my whites too cold. Case in point: See above.)
Anyway, when I went to purchase more of the 2011 Luis Felipe Edwards Family Selection Chard, what I found was the 2009 vintage.
"Well, if the 2011 is good, the ’09 must be even better," I thought, and picked up three bottles.
I was eagerly anticipating the wine-drinking experience when I cracked a bottle of the 2009 later that evening. And don’t get me wrong — it was good. I liked it, too. A lot.
But it was heavier on the oak, and didn’t seem to have the same finesse and layered flavours of the 2011.
And since that went against everything I expected, I decided to do the good ol’ side-by-side taste test just to make sure.
So a few nights later, I pulled out a bottle of each — the 2009 and the 2011 — chilled them (not quite as much as I used to) and had my husband pour me a tasting portion of each and give them to me blind. As I’d anticipated, the result was the same.
I liked the 2011 better.
Which, really, is a good thing. That vintage should be around for some time to come, since it’s the latest one. Had I preferred the ’09, it might have been hard to come by.
The bottom line is, vintages matter. Sometimes the differences between vintages of the same wine are minor, as in this case. But sometimes, they’re substantial. So always check the vintage on the wines you love, and ensure, if possible, you continue to purchase the same one.
Until, of course, that vintage of that wine is all gone. Then the adventure of discovery will begin anew.