Patience in cellaring and drinking Red Burgundies

It is something that I deal with myself on a consistent basis. You read about a particular wine, spend some time to find it, wait for the delivery to arrive and then you are left with a decision: when should I respond to my enthusiasm for the bottle in my hands? The situation is much more difficult when you are excited about a wine that you haven’t tried before. I know. I’m a producer, but it really is something that hasn’t changed for me. So, the questions persist: What do you do when you’ve heard things about a wine and you are dying to try it out for yourself? Do you need to wait? Does it really matter if you just give one a try? It needs to be consumed at some point, why not now?

The quick answer that the best time to open a bottle is now. If you are that driven with enthusiasm, forget drinking windows, do away with ‘expert’ advice. If opening your bottle will make you happy, open your bottle, in this moment, not the next. But, there are a few things to keep in mind if this is the option that you choose to take. That is, especially if you are talking about opening a young Red Burgundy.

Let’s be straight with each other. I don’t know countless people that have cellars that are deep enough to buy the most recent vintage and throw them in the deepest corner of their cellar while they mature, happily drinking the wines from two decades ago that are now at a pleasant spot. Most of the people I know, buy some bottles here and there and at times buy large quantities that they are either confident in or excited enough to take a risk on. Wine does cost money, right? It may be of interest to have a plan of attack when making the investment of time, effort and money to get the most out of your experience.

First off, I believe that every wine has its place at the table. The catch is that the guest of honor isn’t always a Grand Cru. In fact, the odds of a Grand Cru delivering on its promise would the lowest when considering it next to its peers classified as Premier Cru and Village. The reason is that generally speaking these wines need much more time in bottle to mature than they are generally afforded. Premier Crus and Village level wines, while being able to age, and mature to show increased amounts of depth and complexity are infinitely more generous in revealing their talents and unique characteristics at an earlier age.

It is commonly thought that wines that are classified higher should ‘perform’ and ‘wow’. Yet, the truth is that the classification is more closely tied to the level of singularity than it is for a wine’s ability to provide knockout moments through each stage of its life. Further, a wine from a lower classification level with more maturity can (and often will) provide surprising amounts of pleasure and nuance while a younger wine from a higher classification level can seem wound up and stingy, only revealing that there is a good deal of mass or material. If you can accept this concept, it is easy to imagine that many potentially exceptional wines are consumed much too early, at a stage when the wines really should be resting and afforded the time to sort through their material.

All of this is to say that while there is no one ‘best’ time to open your bottle, that there is a higher possibility of the wine showing what makes it special, unique and worth the tariff, if it is given time to develop. Sure. You could open a wine young and it could be delicious, vibrant, fresh and generous in hinting at its origins. There is no doubt that Burgundy’s greatest enemy is how open, pretty, forward or balanced they can be in their youth. This trickery does much to inspire you to open a wine early on. The reward can rarely go beyond experiencing pleasurable baby fat. Which is fine. But, baby fat isn’t terroir.

I can’t recommend a catch-all drinking window for each classification level. Wines at each level are unique. And, a recent vintage may mature earlier than a older vintage, inside of these situations, each village and indeed each vineyard can change things up quite a bit. Producer choices in the vineyard and winery also account for a tremendous amount of variability. What is important to note is that the wines from Burgundy can age/mature/develop/improve for numerous decades at the Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru level. The higher the classification, the higher the possibility that you will be rewarded with a unique experience, but only after a good amount of time.

Some of you have started to receive our 2009s today. We wish for you to enjoy your wines anytime you decide to open them. It is also our advice that you get the most out of the wines that your purchased from us. To be clear: letting these wines mature will be well worth the wait. How long is up to you. But, opening them young only ensures that the experience will be severely limiting. Having only Premier Cru and Grand Cru level wines makes it tough to get a read on how the wines are, so we understand that curiosity will play an important role in when bottles do get opened. So, here is what we have done in checking in on our wines at home:

Open the cork while the wines are a bit cooler than you would like them to be when served.

Pull the cork and let the bottle rest without decanting. This will allow the wine to get a slow and consistent amount of air. Decanting would not be of benefit besides introducing a potentially shocking level of air with the wine. Another option is to issue a small pour after pulling the cork to enlarge the surface area of the wine that the air would come in contact with. It is a good compromise without decanting.

Whenever serving, do so at cool temperatures closer to cellar temperature (roughly 51-55°F) as possible.

I could plea with you until I’ve run out of words to say, but I will leave you with a thought instead:

When drinking a wine too young, it will become clear. The last pour, not the first, will be the best.

To everyone that supported us in our first vintage, I wish to thank you all personally. May each bottle be a beautiful experience.

Cheers

Ray

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4 thoughts on “Patience in cellaring and drinking Red Burgundies

  1. Wonderfully said Ray. As a relative newcomer to Burgundy, who has only experienced the wonders of having a younger 1er Cru improve over the course of a day or two or drinking, I often face this dilemma. Ideally, I would love to acquire 6s or 12s of those wines that i feel will improve with age so I can follow their improvement over years, if not decades. Economic reality often intervenes, but that doesnt stop me from trying to assembling a cellar now that I can look backwards on 10-15 years from now and say “Job well done”. Huzzahs for those who can say that now, and good luck to all like me as we begin our journey.

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  4. Ray,

    I have a number of friends (several of whom are now customers of yours like Ken and Karl and even an older customer like Ben) who want me to open a bottle of 2009 for them to try when I get the wine in the fall. I want it to rest for a while to get over shipping shock, etc., but at some time over the next year or so I am likely going to have to kill one of the bottles.

    I have four choices: 2009 or 2010 Charmes, 2009 MSD Chaffots or 2010 GC Caztiers. Based on your blog post I don’t plan on opening the 2010 GC. Which of the other three would you open to show off. Note that you have a stake in this as most of the people who will be tasting the wine are current or potential customers.

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