By Robert Haas
The age of a wine is a relative thing. Some wines are old young and others are young old. Many great red wines are rushed to the table too young these days. Most restaurants and retailers do not have the financing or space to lay down wines and we, as consumers, have the same problems or simply lack the patience to wait. And many wines, maybe more now than ever, are made to consume young. Sometimes, however, we are presented with opportunities.
I recently tasted our 2001 Côtes de Tablas at the delightful Bistro Henry in Manchester, VT. Chris Kleeman, Henry’s good friend, takes charge of the wines and decides in some cases to cellar some of his choices for later release to the list – certainly a rare luxury these days. The 2001 Côtes is an interesting historical landmark. Since we did not make any Esprit de Beaucastel in 2001, only a little Founders’ Reserve, the Côtes was a blend of virtually the entire vineyard. The 2001 Côtes was still showing quite youthfully, with good color and absolutely no hint of bricky edges. It showed good blackberry, gooseberry and strawberry fruit on the nose and palate, was poised and bright with some dusty tannins at the back end.
What would happen today if we blended our entire vineyard into one wine? We try this each year, for fun, in part because our original intention for Tablas Creek was to make just one red and one white wine each year. Probably the result would be deeper and richer than it was in 2001; the 2001 vintage was marked by April frosts and uneven ripening, with the Grenache component probably the weakest of our three red varieties, and the vines were still young. Yet my feeling was that the 2001 Côtes de Tablas still has a long life ahead of it. At any rate, it was fun and interesting.
Recently I had another wonderful and very different tasting experience: drinking a great mature wine from a little known and often much underrated premier crû vineyard in Burgundy. I was preparing wines for a tasting of old Burgundies when I ran across a 1985 Chassagne-Montrachet La Maltroie from Georges Deleger that had no following vintages in my cellar because Georges retired shortly thereafter. Barbara and I had it for dinner with some rare cold beef filet. The wine was brilliant. Still deeply colored and chock full of cherry and raspberry fruit, rich on the palate with beautiful ripe and rounded tannins, and handsomely structured. The sensation brought me back 25 years to the actual tasting in Deleger’s cellar in the spring of 1986. I was blown away. It was the first 1985 red Burgundy that I had tasted in the barrel. Even though I expected 1985 to be a great vintage I was not prepared for that terrific a red wine to come from a Chassagne vineyard (Chassagne-Montrachet is better known for its brilliant whites). That spring trip brought me to many other terrific wines from that lovely and long-lived vintage.
We are still enjoying a number of 1985 Burgundies today, wines that I tasted and bought back then, but this particular experience last week brought me back to a clear sensory remembrance of the scene in Georges Deleger’s cellar in Chassagne that spring day in 1986.
One of the traditional attributes of a great wine is its ability to improve with age. Great wine changes over time and has a life of its own: youth, adolescence, maturity, senility and finally death. In general, the greater the wine, the longer that each period lasts. Tablas Creek is still too young a vineyard for us to predict long-term aging. Give us another fifty years of experience. But tastings like my recent one of our 2001 Côtes de Tablas – a wine from young vines that was never meant for long aging – make me think we show promise. And wines like the 1985 La Maltroie remind me why it matters.