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Vins de garde: endangered species?

This issue came up in both the "Good to great California rieslings?" and "Parker '100 point system' for wine ratings" topics.

Where in the world are winemakers still making wines specifically intended for aging?

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  1. Parker's last Advocate review of the 2005 Bordeaux from the cask shows a number of wines he suggests will store for 10 to 25 years, with a few at 40+ years. For one, Chapelle d'Ausone,he anticipates maturity in 2020 to 2100!!!!!!!!!!!! 95+ years.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Midlife

      You must mean Ch. Ausone.
      The second wine is quite good, but 95 years might be pushing it, even by Parker.

    2. I just had a 2002 Pontet Canet, decanted for 4 hours, with a grilled porterhouse. As tannic as it is now, my sense is that this wine has the muscle and the structure to age nicely in at least 10 to 15 years.

      My point is that, some or most reputable Bordeaux producers (and let me add, all good Barolo producers), even in the so-called off vintages, has perhaps unintentionally been crafting their wines that almost always require at least some medium term cellaring to be at their best.

      BTW, the Pontet Canet developed nicely in the decanter over the course of our dinner. However, my view is that it will soon enter a closed-down phase very, very soon.

      1. Some Alsatian Riesling, especially Trimbach CFE and CSH (even in off-vintages, these need a *mininum* of 10 years)
        German Riesling
        Loire whites (Vouvray)

        Lopez de Heredia/Vina Tondonia (Rioja)

        1. Caparone out of the Paso Robles area has been making ageworthy red wines for years. They used to be readily available for around 8 or 9 bucks from TJs, but in the last year or so, they have not been for sale there.

          Last summer, a friend did a tasting of Cabs and Merlots (all from Bien Nacido vnyd) from 95-99 and all were drinking well. The 92 that we opened was also excellent.

          This year, I pulled out one of my last bottles of the 80 Cab and it was quite fine.

          I am not as fond of their zins, but the cabs and merlots last a long time and do improve with aging.


          1. Let me preface this by saying I am no fan of the proverbial hedonistic fruit-bomb. What I appreciate most is balance, grace, and a sense of place.

            In my experience the term “vin de garde” is used as quick apology for overt tannins that seem out of balance with a wine’s other components, even more so when preceded by the word “vrais” as in “c’est un vrais vin de garde” meaning something like “we will all be dead and gone before this wine tastes good”. Madiran comes to mind

            It is a rare wine indeed that can last 40-50 years and still retain some balance – only the greatest terroirs in the best of vintages can go for the long haul

            Having said that, I think that those individuals looking for wines to age can still look where they always have – Bordeaux is the classic cellar wine, and most appellations are still a good bet. You might want to steer clear of the super flashy modern wines, but most of the appellations offer wines that have passed the test of time. Hermitage and Chateauneuf have pretty good track records, as do Barolo and Amarone.

            For mid-term aging there are lots of options – Burgundy, Riesling in many guises, Chianti, Brunello, California Cabs, etc

            For truly long-term aging, it seems to me that high acid, high sugar dessert wines are the most dependable, and longest lived – Vintage Port, Sauternes, Madeira, TBA’s etc.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Sam B

              Madiran and Cahors used to be closed and undrinkable upon release. They needed maybe five years to shed their tannins. These days they're ready to drink upon release.

              There aren't many ageworthy Chianti riservas left, most wineries diverted those grapes into proprietary super-Tuscans.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Even Super Tuscans, recent vintages and/or vintages within the last 10 years, have not required any medium-term cellaring to get any better. I've been perusing my stash lately and if you're holding on to some mid-to-late 90's bottles, you'd better make plans on drinking them soon.

                1. re: RCC

                  I didn't say super-Tuscans required cellaring. Like their California models they're made to be drunk on release. By somebody who likes overoaked grossly alcoholic fruit bombs.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Well, you posted that "ageworthy Chianti riservas" are being diverted to production of super-Tuscans, didn't you?

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      The best of the sangiovese grapes that used to go into old-school Chinati riservas that needed a few years of cellaring to reach their peak are instead going into Parkerized super-Tuscans that are ready to drink on release.

              2. As far as Chianti (riserva or otherwise) is concerned, these wines were never produced with aging as an intention. The Italian wine law made them to be what they are, and how I know them to be - soft, non-tannic, easy-drinking red wines that will have to be drunk young with tomato-based dishes.

                Whether intentional or not, it's the Italian wine law, rather than the producers' whim, that dictated that Chianti will not be a wine to age. The strict rule requiring the dilution the sangiovese with other non age-worthy varietals actually pushed the producers to divert their best age-worthy sangiovese through the so-called super Tuscans.

                6 Replies
                1. re: RCC

                  Granted that Chianti Riservas aren't long agers like Bordeaux or Barolos, but saying they have to be drunk young with tomato-based dishes is going a little too far. IMHO, of course. My 1989 [edit: they're actually the 1988] Ruffino Riserva Ducales (gold label) are only now beginning to open up, and I harbour fond memories of the 1975 Castell'in Villa CR sold by the SAQ in 1997 and 1998 (for the ridiculously low price of C$40/US$28, too), a mavellous accompaniment to wild boar pot roasts with nary a tomato in sight.

                  Edit: Looks like I wrote up the Castell'in Villa in 1998.

                  Chianti Classico Riserva 1975, Castell’in Villa (C$40.25)
                  In every way, younger than expected. Limpid red-maroon with ruby glints, moderate saturation, some fading and a thin, only slightly orangish rim. Appealing, classic Chianti nose of plum, tobacco, earth, terra cotta, spices and oak with herb and smoke notes. Surprisingly vigorous on the palate, with a fruity attack, silky texture, moderately high acidity, firm (but not dry or astringent) tannins and a tobacco, herb, plum, cherry and oak flavoured mid-palate. The finish, while not very intense, is quite long. Although lacking the stuffing and complexity of a great wine, this is more than a curiosity. Overall rating: very good, almost excellent. My faith in the aging potential of Tuscan wines is restored. Delicious with a rosemary-scented boar roast, it has the wherewithal to stand up to something more robustly flavoured — quail stuffed with pancetta and sage, for example. (4/4/98)

                  1. re: carswell

                    You'd better open your Ducales soon. Early this year, I opened a bottle of 1988 and 1989 each in Sfoglia here in NYC (you can search for my notes on this board). I also opened a 1989 about a couple months ago at home.

                    They're just quite OK, but I’m afraid that they have been extended past their prime and are in a decline. Brickish in color, the tannin have almost dried out and the fruit’s getting thinner over the course of the meal.

                    I, too, have a couple of 88 and an 89 that I plan on opening with other friends with the sole purpose of using as a point of comparison with other wines. I wouldn't peruse these as the sole or "highlight" wines with any decent meals.

                    1. re: RCC

                      Opened one this spring. Your description doesn't fit it at all; the wine showed no bricking and was still vigourous -- primary, even -- in taste. The question for me has always been whether the wine's tannins would resolve before the fruit disappears and the spring bottle was the first that had me believing they would. I'll be giving my remaining bottles another couple of years in the cellar.

                      Edit: My bad. Just checked my inventory and it's the 1988.

                  2. re: RCC

                    To oversimplify a bit, there are three kinds of Chianti.

                    One is ready to drink on release in late spring or early summer of the year after the harvest. I've found this in the U.S. only once.

                    Regular is ready to drink on release two years after the harvest.

                    Riserva must by law be aged three years but many wineries used to make it to age longer. The best I've had were Villa Antinori vintages from the 60s and 70s drunk between 10 and 15 years of age.

                    The DOC and DOCG rules now allow 100% sangiovese. Frankly I think Villa Antinori and other great producers were cheating on the white grapes for a long time and the rules were eventually revised to reflect reality.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      The rules were eventually revised in an effort to bolster the image of Chianti, which had long ago fallen from grace. The Consorzio di Gallo Nero was crumbling, with leading producers dropping out (Antinori and Ricasoli both left in 1970). Ridiculous DOCG regulations prevented them from making the best wines that their terroirs could produce, and Chianti had a well deserved reputation for cheap red wine in a straw basket – a fiasco in more ways than one.

                      It is, it seems, rather ironic that the gentleman who made the Antinori Chianti Classico Riservas in the 60’s and 70’s, also gave birth to the whole Super-Tuscan category. In 1970, Giacomo Tachis (at Antinori) made the first vintage of Tignanello, originally labeled Chianti Classico Riserva, (later opting for VDT) Antinori (under Tachis) had indeed been breaking the rules, knowing full well that the required addition of Malvasia and/or Trebbiano didn’t make for better Chianti. Many other producers eventually followed Antinori‘s (Tachis’) lead, and soon so-called “Super-Tuscans” were redefining the image of Tuscan wine – much for the better. Like them or not, Super Tuscan wines, and the winemakers responsible for making them, forced a change in the regulations, and the result was better Chianti.

                      In a true twist of irony, under current Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG regulations, Tignanello once again qualifies as CCR (80% Sangiovese, 20% other approved varieties, NO White varieties allowed, minimum 2 years aging, and 3 months in bottle prior to release, minimum 12.5% alcohol) Affirmation?

                      I think that the general quality of Chianti (even in the sub-zones) is better that it has ever been. If anything, Chianti Classico is enjoying a real renaissance, with producers reclaiming the good name of this DOCG. Estates like Ama, Fonterutoli, Felsina, Fontodi, Riecine, and Monsanto are making super wines that will last longer than I am willing to wait. Vins de Garde? no, but I don't think 10 years will find them dried out.

                      1. re: Sam B

                        Hello, after liberating a '95 G.Prima La Massa and some '97s (Panerettas and a Fonterutoli) from my basement recently, I concur fully. They were all balanced, succulent, and harmonious, with the barest hint of color change at the rim. The range of foods they accommodated went well beyond tomato sauces. cheers

                  3. Have you ever tried an umbrian wine called sagrantino di montefalco? I admit that most "vin de garde" wines have more history - until relatively recently most sagrantinos were vinified sweet. But the sagrantino grape has an immense amount of tannin and extract, and is essentially undrinkable for some years after being bottled. It is a big wine, and one worth trying for those who like nebbiolos or Medoc reds.

                    And don't forget German riesling. Just because they taste so darned good when they are young doesn't mean they can't be aged for a very very long time.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: robdrbul

                      Thak you for the information. I was given a bottle of Paolo Bea Montefalco Sagrantino 2000 a year ago and I have no clue about these wines nor when to drink this particular one.

                      Are you familiar with this particular producer and vintage?

                      1. re: RCC

                        Paolo Bea is a solid sagrantino producer, and the varietal reportedly did okay despite 2000's interminable heat wave of a summer. If you like to chew your wine you could have it now - but if you have good long-term storage I'd recommend waiting a couple more years.

                      2. re: robdrbul

                        hello, a few months ago I tried sagrantino di mont. for the first time, a '94 riserva by Caprai I had kept for 5-6 years. Magnifico, with 5-10 years of life left in it easily, the tannin softened to a nice complementary bittersweet nuance. Don't regret trying it in its 'youth', because I went and got more to hoard. cheers

                      3. Some Northern Rhone wines (particularly Cote Rotie and Hermitage) apparently require about 10 years of aging to become approachable. These are Syrah based wines (with a touch of some white grapes). To put this in beer terms think of them as an "Imperial" Burgundy (i.e. massive but juicy or "singsong" as it were).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Chinon00

                          Only Cote-Rotie AOC laws allow Viognier (only white wine variety to be added with Syrah. And not all producers do this. All other red wines in the Northern Rhone (Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, Cornas) labeled as such must be 100% Syrah.

                        2. Hello Mr. Stein
                          Can you help to reconcile the quotation from the unsigned Hermitage entry in the Oxford Companion to Wine with Livingstone-Learmonth'S from his Wines of the Rhone (referenced at the end of the Oxford entry).
                          Oxford -"Unlike Cote Rote up river, red Hermitage is made from the Syrah vine alone".
                          Livingstone-Learmoth -"Hermitage red wine is made principally from the Syrah grape, although because most vineyards have been planted- normally with Syrah as well as Marsanne...- a maximum of 15% white grapes from the Marsanne and the less popular Rousanne are permitted to enter the fermenting vats with the Syrah."
                          To keep up the confusion in appendix 1 of the Oxford Companion Robinson lists marsanne and rousanne as permissable minor grapes of red Hermitage, Croze-Hermitage and Siant Joseph.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: wew

                            I was mistaken on St-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage (technically, not practically). I went to the INAO website and up to 15% Marsanne and Roussanne can be blended with Syrah. Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage are grouped together as Hermitage AOC. So yes, one could put the white grapes in with Syrah, but no Hermitage producer does this. I've never seen any Crozes-Hermitage or St-Joseph bottling imported into the Bay Area that's been a blend. I checked Chapoutier's and Guigal's website and all their wines from these appelations are 100% Syrah.