Wine Director Carla Rzeszewski on Which Wines Age Well
Note from the Editor: There have been a lot of questions in Talk lately about which wines to buy and save for later—wines to store for 10 years, or 18, or 21 years (until Adam Kuban's baby is ready to drink them!) We asked Carla Rzeszewski (the wine director of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar in New York City) for her advice.
What kinds of wines get better with age? How do the flavors develop over time?
Rieslings with residual sugar, with taut acid structures, these wines are a treat to get into with age on them. They begin to appear drier than they once were, and that trajectory is a magical one, in my opinion. What a learning experience to purchase a few bottles of one vineyard, one producer, one vintage, and open a bottle every few years, to watch the wine grow. I think it''s the closest I'll ever get to raising a child, come to think of it.
Opening old red Burgundy that has turned in on itself, figured itself out, and has become a seamlessly woven whole is a profound experience. There is a knowledge, a history, a lesson in those bottles. There are teachings, reminders in those wines. I still haven't had my moment of aha love with either old Bordeaux or old Barolo, but I would love to see what all the hoopla is about. I'm hoping for that at some point!
In these older wines, the fruit falls back and the earth comes to center stage. The wines rearrange themselves, they become realigned, and that settling of aspects is truly a breathtaking thing for me. When you come upon a very old wine where even the earth aspects have seemingly disappeared and all that's left is inexplicable, ethereal beauty- my god, it'll bring tears to your eyes. I've heard people talk about how old wines become a form of light; just this unreal beam of clarity. Sounds cheesy. It's pretty dope, though.
If I don't have a wine cellar, can I still age wine?
Who does have a wine cellar these days? I live in a studio in Chinatown, I've got a noodle shop where my cellar would be. All you need is quiet, dark, cool corners to hide these little gems 'til you are ready to crack 'em open. I have cupboards and closets that maintain a consistent temp of about 60 degrees F, so I have begun to get rid of clothes, pots and pans, and I've redubbed these spaces my own private wine cellar.
What wines should I be buying now that will be good to drink in 10 years? What about 20?
If you want some of these experiences, that beam of light thang, and you've got access (and the funds) to procure these high-end Northern Rhone, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolos, then by all means do it. They will reward you, if not with enlightenment, then good ol' delicious joy.
But also grab some Vouvray, Savennieres, Montlouis, Champagne, Sherry, Riesling, Bandol Rose, Assyrtiko, Gruner Veltliner, Roter Veltiner, Gewurtztraminer, Muscadet (!), Madeira, Jura, etc and call it a day. Talk to whom you trust at your local wine shop, they will be able to help you choose which producers are a better bet for aging. Buy wines that will be great in 2-5 years , 5-10 years, 25 years, don't lock yourself into a place where you are not allowed to cherry pick your cellar for a decade. Enjoy the aging, don't let it be an obligation.
Above all, you'll need wonder and an open mind. I recently had all my assumptions and judgements broken in half when I tasted an '87 Pinot Gris from Eyrie Vineyards in Willamette Valley, Oregon. It was singing. I thought I knew what Oregon Pinot Gris was capable of. Turns out I don't know shit. What a refreshing reminder!
Do you collect wines to age for a long time? What wines are you saving, and when will you drink them?
I definitely have a few wines laid down. I've put them to sleep, hoping they wake up fantastically matured. They are mostly whites, whites with some residual sugar and good, snappy acid. Loire Chenins, Alsatian Rieslings, German Rieslings, a few roses that I am curious about aging, Clos Cibonne's old vines Tibouren in particular. Cru Beaujolais, Loire Cab Franc. Quite a few sherries, actually the non-oxidative style of fino/manzanilla specifically. A jeroboam of Calabretta's beautiful 2001 Nerello Mascalese, and a peppering of producers I dig from Bordeaux and Burgundy, but primarily whites.
I'll drink the rose first, in a few years, followed by the Loire reds and Beaujolais; I hope to keep some of the Burgundy and Bordeaux for at least 8-10 years, but I know myself and that may be difficult. The rieslings are drinking well now, which makes self-discipline hard, but I want to re-discover them in at least 10 years as well. The sherries are the hard thing for me; I love sharing them with a group of friends that are as in love with them as myself, and therefore it's tough: enjoying them is so rewarding! But I'm hoping for 5 to 10 on those as well.