Words and images by Bob Scott, Mudbrick Cellar Master
One of the few pleasures of a Lockdown is using it as an excuse to raid the wine cellar. Cooking something to complement the wine and sitting down to enjoy them together can be an oasis of calm amidst the stress of a Covid lockdown. Thinking about which wine you will choose and anticipating how good it will be can happen throughout the day and brings many little bursts of pleasure. All good stuff.
If you have just done a lockdown splurge on a couple of mixed dozens you can achieve the same effects. So why cellar wine?
There is no one single reason to cellar wine. There are many and varied reasons which, I believe, are all related to pleasure and to the simple fact that wine changes over time. As a wine ages it undergoes lots of subtle adjustments to such things as; aroma, bouquet, colour, flavour, taste, texture, intensity, and mouthfeel. This is simply due to the natural chemical changes that occur with aging in all living things and the products of them on this earth. Whether these are considered negative or positive largely depends on your experience and point of view.
To me one of the more important changes is what I call integration. When a wine is young it has lots of different characteristics that appear all around the palate and mouth and often they are quite disjointed. Bright fruit here, non-fruit flavours over there, acid over the top and tannin at the back. As the wine ages those characteristics often become less precise, softer and meld together into an enjoyable whole.
Another change I enjoy is the wine tends to lose freshness. Bright fruit flavours and zingy acids become a little more toned down. It is quite difficult to explain this effect as we have no words. Talking about wine we are always comparing flavours to being similar to something else. For example we often refer to the flavours in a fine young Merlot as being like plums and raspberries. 20 years later it is more difficult because as we don’t generally eat 20 year old fruit we have no comparison. However if there are fruit flavor comparisons it is more in the dried fruit spectrum with broader less precise flavours.
A third change I enjoy in aged red wines is the softening of the tannins. Part of the aging process is that the tannins, which dry your mouth out, tend to lose their astringency so the wine feels much smoother in your mouth.
White wines with little or no tannins also undergo changes as a result of aging. They lose freshness and generally develop more interesting non fruit flavours and characteristics. Fresh zingy, apple-ly Rieslings can develop nice broad soft dried apple flavours with undertones of resin and Chardonnays often become softer with a caramelly character behind the stonefruit.
All in all cellaring is about being curious, open minded and enjoying the development of the wines as they age. It is also about enjoying the anticipation and enjoying the sense of achievement in practicing delayed gratification. Most importantly it is about being able to bring pleasure to any situation by opening and enjoying a bottle of wine you chose so long ago…