I don’t have an expansive wine cellar, but I do have one. It’s in a corner of my basement against an outside wall, where it stays mostly cool year-round.
It’s also a disorganized disaster of a mess. And that might be downplaying the situation.
But, as I slowly try to dig through it and drink it down to a more manageable size, I’ve found some real treasures — mainly older local wines that in many cases I had forgotten I even had.
A few weeks ago, I opened some of these finds with friends – who also brought some older local wines – just to see how everything was tasting. These wines varied in vintage from 1997 to 2006 and, while a couple of them were probably beyond their peak drinking, not a single one of them was what I’d call a clunker.
I wasn’t surprised of course. I’ve been lucky to taste many older New York wines over the years thanks to the generosity of winemakers, winery owners and fellow enthusiasts. But it got me thinking –– does age-worthiness still matter in today’s wine world?
I posed the question to Wölffer winemaker Roman Roth who told me in an email “To make wines that can age very well is the ultimate pedigree for a winery. It is a statement celebrating how great the vineyard is, its terroir, the vintage, the commitment of the winery and the skill of the vineyard manager and the winemaker. Making wines that can age gives a legacy and brings one to par with the greatest wineries in the world.”
Wölffer’s ever-growing rosé program aside, Roth makes some of the most age-worthy wines on the East End. A bottle of his 2006 Perle Chardonnay was among my cellar finds and while it was a bit oxidized, it still showed nice fruit qualities, wonderful acidic structure and length.
He understands what it takes to make wines that can age for five, 10, 15 or more years. His merlots are some of the East Coast wines I have the most confidence in when it comes to holding them in my cellar.
By aging, I don’t mean just hanging on either. No wine collector buys wines hoping or expecting that they will stay the same or merely survive over time. They are looking for the wines to evolve — in a positive way. Tannins can soften. Flavors can become more complex, with non-fruit flavors emerging.
The question is does a wine get “better” with age? I put better in quotes because there are a lot of people who don’t like aged wines, and that’s okay, too. It’s clear that at least some Long Island –– and New York and East Coast and beyond –– wines do.
Roth adds, “Being able to make wines that can age is a wonderful insurance for buyers, for collectors, for romantics and for wine lovers in general.” Wine buyers, those who are buying for shops or restaurants, obviously need to know that the wines they buy aren’t going to degrade over time. But are they expecting to keep these wines for more than a couple of years? Most of the sommeliers I know are changing their lists so often that I doubt they are looking for more than a year or two.
Most wines in America — I’ve seen estimates of up to 99% — are consumed the same day or week they are purchased. Do those consumers care? I’m not sure. I have a lot of wine-loving friends, but none of them are thinking about how a wine will develop in their cellars (which in some cases is just a small rack in the kitchen pantry).
I understand that a more traditional American wine ethos –– and it’s certainly in the Old World –– says that a wine region can’t make a name for itself without proving that its wines can age, but I do wonder if that’s the case anymore. American wine is changing. Rose is still on the rise. Natural wine, Pet Nat and Piquette are the trends du jour. I don’t think those are intended for long-term aging.
I’m not saying that aging potential doesn’t matter anymore. I’m saying that I don’t think it matters as much as it did even 10 years ago.
By the way, the best of the older wines I’ve had recently was a bottle of Lenz Winery 2001 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon. I had it with friends and didn’t take a single note — but it was incredible. And probably would have continued to develop in the bottle for years to come.
A version of this story first appeared in the Suffolk Times/northforker.com