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!

 

 

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.