Serious Eats: Drinks
Paul Einbund on Aging Wine (and When Not to Age It)
Editor's Note: We've been chatting a lot recently about which wines we should buy to drink in five or ten (or more!) years. We've had tips from Carla Rzeszewski of The Spotted Pig and more advice from Christy Frank, owner of Frankly Wines in Tribeca. Earlier this week we heard about how wine develops from importer Terry Theise. Today, we have tips on not aging wine (as well as which ones are worth saving for later) from sommelier Paul Einbund, the beverage director of Frances restaurant in San Francisco. He also makes some of his own wine...and knows a thing or two about drinking it. Take it away, Paul!
Why bother aging wine?
Most wines are NOT intended for aging! It is important that we start the conversation with the understanding that less then 2% of the wines produced in the world are intended to be aged for more then 6 months after production.
That said, some wines can reward the patience and expense of aging by showing unique flavors and textures that don't come about any other way. Let's take a look at one of my favorites, Fourrier. The wines of Fourrier come from the village of Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy. Made from Pinot Noir, this is one of the most fruit forward and approachable of any of the great wines from Burgundy, and yet they aren't always that way.
One of the fun things about wine (and things that keeps me employed!) is that every vintage is different, so knowing what the vintage was like will probably give you some clues as to how long you are going to want to age the wine. Back to our friend Fourrier, when young these wines often have a protective layer of tannin and shocking acidity, that could push some people away. Take that wine and age it for a couple of years and the tannins soften, allowing the fruit to shoot forward. Add that bracing acidity and you've got an amazingly delicious glass of wine!
What tips do you have for a beginner who is trying to figure out which wines to cellar?
To anyone starting out I'd have to say...be careful with what you purchase. Know why you want to age the wine. I would be surprised if there's any pro out there who hasn't made several mistakes aging wines that were great and got worse. When you taste a wine that is perfect, or even very good, why would you age it? To make it more perfect? There's no such thing!
Make sure you taste some mature wines and figure out when you like to drink your wines—we all have our own preferences. There's a saying that French drink their wines too young, the British too old, the Americans just right...but it's by mistake! Well, that's because we aren't thinking about when we want to drink those wines, only that we heard we were supposed to be aging our wines so if we drop some dough...we think we should hold on to the wines for a while...but that's not always true.
Also, if a wine isn't good to begin with, it isn't going to be good no matter how long you age it. That said, if a wine is good but tannic, it is possible a few years might do it some good. Sugar is a great preservative, you are more likely to have an exciting aging experience with a sweet wine.
So, what's in your cellar?
My cellar at home consists mostly of Northern Rhone wines, Burgundy, Austrian whites, and Huet. I am a big fan of mature Champagne and German Riesling, but I keep drinking them! A great example of a wine that could age but I'm just not sure it could possibly be any better to drink then it is right now, is Montevertini's Le Pergole Torte 2008. I'm not sure that I'm going to stop drinking this amazing wine! I have a bit of Fourrier, Chave, Allemande, Rostaing, Gangleoff, and Huet that I am going to try not to drink too soon. The 2008s from Fourrier will be in my cellar for around 5 years, while the big Cote-Roties of Gangleoff will try and hang on for longer if I let them. Large formats are the best!