Why Kiwis are missing out by not ageing wine
Up from the cellar came a village Chambolle-Musigny 1978, a Cru Bourgeois 1981 from Bordeaux and, for a bit of fun at the end, a Mumm Brut NV Champagne that had been resting quietly since the early 1980s.
None of them were expensive wines, but all were rendered more interesting by having been cellared for more than 30 years (the calm, golden, chamomile-infused non-vintage Mumm being a particular revelation).
It was a free tasting put on by Christophe, whose house we let for a week in Burgundy. Christophe is a big wine buff, but his fondness for older wine is hardly unusual in his part of the world. In Europe, beyond the vin de table shallows, they prefer their wine to have some bottle age, even if it's only four or five years.
We Kiwis, on the other hand, don't seem to care too much. We're more than happy for our wine experiences to be mostly about young stuff. There are lots of reasons for this… our wine culture is new and relatively unsophisticated; it's based around an early-release wine style (sauvignon blanc) that is designed to be set upon the moment it hits the shelves; very few New Zealand houses have wine storage areas; and perhaps for many Kiwis the whole idea of ageing wine is pretentious.
In the 20 years I've been writing about wine, there have been predictions that this is all about to change, that a wine cellar is about to become as Kiwi as a beer fridge. Well, I've yet to notice any great shift in that direction.
What are we missing out on? Mature wines – like top sportspeople (Michael Jordan comes to mind) – are often less flashy and aggressive than they were in their youth, but a whole lot more effective. Their various parts work together more harmoniously, and along the way they acquire a new set of resonant flavours. Importantly, they also perform much better with food.
Whenever people seek my advice on how to make a modest start to ageing wine, I tell them to go out and buy a case of good New Zealand riesling. It's not expensive, and it will reward time in the cellar. Few varieties have as dramatic a flavour evolution over time as riesling. I recommend the following labels: Framingham, Mount Edward, Dry River, Palliser Estate, Pegasus Bay, Forrest Estate, Villa Maria and Waipara Hills.
Domaine Rewa Riesling 2013, $24
This beautifully balanced, off-dry riesling has the weight and structure to age gracefully. Wild flower, lime and apple blossom notes are held together by incisive though rounded acidity.
Pask Declaration Merlot 2010, $50
This Hawke's Bay winery likes to hold back some of its wines, with good reason: they age fantastically well. This 2010 shows attractive secondary flavours – spice, pencil shavings – around a core of sweet, settled fruit, well supported by fresh acidity and lithe tannins. Go to pask.co.nz