Category Archives: Aymeric’s Rating Standard

Decanting old wines

decanting

I recently lost my nerve on a social media following a post regarding decanting and old wines, and I sure should not have. The post was published by a sommelier who considered that 1990 was an old vintage, proving that he did not even know what he was talking about !

I only got upset because I feel in pain for all those wines, all those producers who work hard, all those merchants who select and keep the wines with care, to find them slaughtered by an ignorant consumer after 30 years of cellaring! Yes, an old wine needs decanting, even more so than a young wine.

The reason may be difficult to explain, but the experience is easy to have: open two bottles, decant one two hours in advance, the other just when dinner begins. I mean any Bordeaux, except 1978 (please do not ask why: 100% of 78s that I drank were worn out after 15 minutes, not even decanted). Any wine ! 1928, 1945, 1990… Any area: Médoc, Saint-Emilion, Pessac and of course Sauternes… Sometimes, even poor vintages like 1973 can better in a decanter (they cannot get worse anyway).

I unfortunately cannot count anymore the number of old wines that I opened, but it is well over 3,000… The number of wines that I regretted to have opened too early is exactly four, all of them 1978, and I can recall each one : Duhart-Milon, Haut-Batailley, La Lagune, Pichon-Comtesse. Very good wines, but not over 15 minutes after opening.

I am not here to solve the 78 mystery but I want to try and prevent the old wines’ massacre with this message: do not listen to Cassandras and try for yourselves. The rule is to put a bottle standing at least four hours before decanting (best the day before), and to open it two hours before dinner time. Decant immediately, which you can do with a candle or an electric light, it is not as traditional but virtually the same.

If the cork is hard to extract, and you could not do it without a lot of crumbs in the wine, ideally filter with silk. Unfortunately, silk filters are not produced any longer, I guess I have two of the few remaining in the world. A paper coffee filter will do, but it is so unfortunate to let so much wine be absorbed! Then you can either but a glass stopper to the decanter or not, it is not essential, as long as the wine surface in contact with air is wide enough. Serve after two hours: the wine is clean, the nose is fresh, the mouth is well balanced… Nothing you can get from a freshly open bottled.

We always recommend decanting any wine, in particular old wines, to get the most of them. You might be surprised at how the taste and flavour could marvellously change if properly decanted.

Lastly here comes a short video showing how to decant old wines. You might be surprised at how simply it can be done. What you need is just a decanter, a flat candle, and… a bottle of wine! To watch the video, please click here. Hope you enjoy!

 

 

3 things you must know about old vintage wines

 

In our opinion, many bad habits have developed over the recent years due to both poor services prevailing in most restaurants and traditional savoir-faire no longer passing down through generations. Let us review some simple facts:

 
1) Serving temperature

It is commonly known that red wines should be served at room temperature. But is it really so? What is known as ‘room temperature’ dates back to the time when dining rooms were (not much) heated at 16 or 17° C. Many restaurants today serve wines at 25° C, but no wine should be served above 20° C. Of course, white wines should be served between 8 and 10° C, while sweet whites can be chilled at 6° C. The wines will rise in temperature in the glass anyway.

2) Decanting

So many clueless theories are heard about decanting that we have to weigh in with strong affirmations. Contrary to common belief, old vintage wines should be decanted even longer than young wines. It is a way to get rid of their ester aromas caused by their ageing, but which contributed to form their complexity. Two hours is a good minimum. The risk of having wines fading does exist, but it is rare and far less dangerous than not decanting it sufficiently. I know only one exception: all wines from the 1978 vintage will pass after twenty minutes.

You can decant all sorts of wines; even white wines and champagne will be better if decanted, but as for champagne you need to be very careful to avoid an excessive disappearance of bubbles.

Before decanting, you need to put the bottle up for at least one hour to let the sediments fall to the bottom. Otherwise your decanted wine will look like mud.

The basic rules for decanting are: put a light on a table (electric or candle), take a decanter in one hand, the bottle in the other, and incline slowly the wine bottle over the light and pour delicately into the decanter. When sediments appear in the light, stop. That’s it!

3) Glasses

Again, there are lots of theories about glasses, but only one answer is good: a beautiful glass is always more pleasant. A fine crystal glass with a large bottom and a somewhat restricted opening is ideal, especially with young wines, while a larger opening is more suited for older vintages (20 years and above). Please forget about flutes for Champagne, and use tulip shaped glasses instead. The flutes are just a clever invention to make more glasses from one bottle!

 

 

St-Emilion’s new classification: a question of trust

st emilion new clasification

Contrary to the famous 1855 Médoc classification, to date still unchanged, the 1955 St-Emilion classification is supposed to change every ten years, so as to encourage winegrowers towards excellence.

In 2006, the new classification was published, elaborated by the same type of persons as before, a group of Bordeaux professionals, but was vividly refuted by those owners whose châteaux were demoted. Typical to France, the authorities (in this case the Parliament, the Senate and the Constitutional Council) granted those châteaux the right to keep their former classification, while the newly promoted could use their new one!

In 2012, the INAO (French Official Administration for Appelations d’Origine) nominated a group of independent personalities to elaborate a new classification. Of course, some Château owners are also members of the INAO.

Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, so must a new classification.

The main benefit of the unchanged 1855 classification is that none can be suspected to influence anyone. Also, market prices establish another hierarchy which advantageously provides some fluidity. I could go on and on about the benefits of stability in rankings, especially when the terroir remains always the same, but here the main question is : why are the results of Saint-Emilion’s new classification so ambiguous? Why do we feel uneasy about the new promoted domains?

First, selecting the wine tasters: highly qualified professionals, with an excellent reputation, but not Bordeaux ones. Not every wine evolves like Bordeaux. No other wines could taste flat when young but still become fantastic after 30 years. It is hard to understand and accept it.

Second, the tasting methodology: one vintage only. What? How is it even possible to accept that the classification of a wine is based on a unique vintage? If you taste the Saint-Julien 89, then the Saint-Julien 90, you would have two very different classifications! Even the Cru Bourgeois require at least three vintages to compare properly.

Lastly, the ranking methodology: tasting accounted for just 25% of the global ranking ! How can I accept, as a wine lover, that quality should only account for one quarter of a wine valuation! I do not care about the quality of the parking lot, and I think that old fashioned cellars are just as good (in fact better) than new ones.

The only outcome from this type of behaviour is that wines are being selected on the basis of fashion and the latest trends!

When you know that a significant change in a vineyard requires time to make it through the bottle:

vine selection: a new vineyard will take ten years to produce decent wines, and twenty years for great wines
wine evolution: ten years in the bottle is a low minimum, twenty better
Basically, a real change will affect a wine in a certain way after up to 40 years… And some want to change the classification every ten years!

Yes, I am utterly outraged by the new Saint-Emilion classification. Again, not by the results, some of which were expected, some maybe even justified, but the approach has no excuses.

 

 

 

Aymeric’s Rating Standard

winerating

Aymeric de Clouet ’s  Rating 

 I have been tasting wine for 27 years now and I learned from my father who has been tasting wines “en primeurs” since 1959, and who was educated by my grandfather, who himself started tasting wines since the end of World War I!

From that accumulated experience, I do not believe wine tasting is an absolute science which can be approached with certainties. Every tasting is relative and depends on your knowledge, your years of practice, and the circumstances around the tasting. Yes, it is easier to deal with certainties in life! But when it comes to wine tasting, I can only give my opinion about the quality of a wine, not its taste itself, which is personal and individual opinion.

By the same token, I do not describe the taste of wines in this ridicule new fashion. A wine does not taste like tar, metal, yellow flowers in a summer morning, etc. A wine sometimes tastes like wood, when the amount of new wood is too high, or the barrels too toasted. And it may be tannic, acidic, etc. End of the story.

In conclusion, if you want your opinion to be dictated by someone else, I am not the right person. If you want to learn from my experience, my numerous tasting results, I am glad to share.

My system rating is the simplest, ranking from 0 to 5 stars:

*****: great wine, with depth, complexity, ageing potential, among the best of all times. Needless to say, I do not grant those 5 stars every year and hardly more than one or two wines within the same year.

****: excellent wine, worthy of the best cellars, a must buy and must try.

***: very good wine, with less complexity maybe, less depth, length, etc. But very good indeed. Generally the category with the best price-quality ratios.

**: good wine, no more. No flaws, but not quintessential for your cellar. A wine you can drink at a restaurant or under “extreme” circumstances (picnic, travel, etc.)

*: average or mediocre wine. Some flaws (residual sugar, excessive tannins, lack of acidity, etc.)

0: atrocious wine, shame of the terroir. Extremely oxidative whites, awfully tannic reds with high levels of residual sugar, wines that you would hardly serve to your sink!