by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
My wife and I hosted a wedding reception at our house a week ago Sunday. Two of our best friends, who we’ve known for well over 10 years, and who’ve been together for almost 20, finally tied the proverbial knot. Seems like kind of a crazy mixed up world when the state can dictate whether two people who want to get married are in fact able to do so. It wasn’t that all that long ago (I think I was 17 at the time), that the US Supreme Court ruled the state cannot prevent blacks and whites from marrying. It took pretty much another 55 years before the Supreme Court did almost the same thing (not quite, but good enough for now) for gays and lesbians. I think 50 years from now we will look back upon the prohibition of people of the same sex to marry much the same way we now look back in amazement at laws banning interracial marriage.
But enough of that. This is a blog about wine, not about politics or social change.
So in the course of our celebration we (the guests) of course brought out some of the best wines that we could.
The two that really stood out, at least by pedigree, were a 1963 Graham’s Port, and a 1997 BV Georges La Tour Cabernet. I had tasted that same port about 15 years ago, and, at that time, I would definitely have said it was one of the best wines I had ever tasted.
I would not have said that last week, however. It was still a very good wine, no doubt about that. But whatever it was that stood out 15 years ago is gone. It was very soft very round. It had lost the tannin structure that can make a young port so rough. But it also lost that inexplicable something that made this wine so special when I last tasted it.
This was my first time to taste the 1997 BV. This wine is considered, as a general rule, one of the best California has to offer. But general rules are just that, general. I found nothing in the wine that really stood out as being special in any way. It was drinkable, but that was about it.
I would have to acknowledge that my views concerning these two wines were not necessarily shared by everybody else. I didn’t hear any comments that would lead me to believe anyone thought the BV was anything special. However, many of the people at the reception did love the Graham’s.
In addition to the two wines that I’ve already discussed, there was a plethora of other wines to choose from. And the one that I enjoyed the most, maybe consuming a little bit more than I really should have, was our own Seven Artisans Montepulciano. I thought this was just tasting beautifully. When younger, the fruit in the wine had a tendency to overwhelm the tannins to the point that you could hardly tell that there were any tannins there at all. The fruit, however, has subsided a bit, allowing the tannins to come through in a very nice, balanced way.
What to take from all of this? I think the first thing is that everybody has their own, very subjective tastes when it comes to wine. I think probably most of the people who tasted both the Graham’s and the Montepulciano would have opted for the Graham’s. But I don’t care what other people think. I preferred the Montepulciano, and that’s just the way it is.
The second thing I would take away from the tasting is that age is not always the friend of wine. For every 20-year-old wine that has developed into a masterpiece, there are probably hundreds that have simply lost their fruit and become, at best, merely drinkable. At worst, they have totally lost it, and maybe become oxidized and undrinkable. That certainly is going to be more true for a California wine than for a port, but I think it applies to port as well. You certainly have to adjust the timeframe for port, since at 20 years most ports are still going strong. But the 63 was 50 years old now and I think its best days have passed. The Georges La Tour was 16 years old, and I am pretty sure it was a much better wine five or ten years ago.
At any rate, our friends are happily married now, and the wines that we enjoyed are part of history now. But the most important function of wine is to be part of pleasures that people experience with one another. So, in that sense, whether the wine was a little better or a little worse, it fulfilled its role.