Window of Opportunity

People ‘in to wine’ are guaranteed to have one or more valuable bottles languishing at the bottom of their cellars which were either gifted to them, were forgotten about until recently, or bought on a whim. Either way there is something lacking, and that’s full knowledge of the wine and thus, to the wino at least, some anxiety regarding its drinking window.[singlepic id=21 w=320 h=240 float=right]

A wine’s drinking window, to the uninitiated, is the ideal time in which a wine is to be enjoyed. It may come as a surprise to some but wine doesn’t last forever, and in fact it starts rapidly deteriorating after a point, its ‘peak’. The drinking window is the period just before and after (to an extent), the zenith whereby the wine is at its utmost expression.

A wine’s drinking window is massively dependent on a variety of things; but the biggest factors, of course, are the producer, the grape and the way its made. At least you can estimate those elements to some degree; supermarket wines (those under €15 for example) don’t really age because they’re meant for immediate consumption, so if you’re buying a wine to age then the intent ensures that you’re half way there already.

The problem, though, are the other variables that play a part that are more, well, variable. These include the vintage (the year in which it’s made), the particular area the wine is from, how the producer handles such considerations (it’s still very possible for a good producer to produce bad wines) and even storage conditions of the wine since bottling.

So that means that, despite how educated you are about wine, you’ll never find out how it’s drinking until you actually open the bottle. This provides ample fodder for debate amongst wine lovers everywhere and even major wine writers can disagree completely over how long a wine can be expected to improve/last.

So back to the original point: the fact that some will have a bottle or two for which they have little or no prior knowledge and as such are at a disadvantage about its drinking window, as opposed to someone who does a little research before committing to a particular bottle. It’s like getting a car without a test drive or its service history .

And so it was that I had a bottle of Marqués de Riscal “Baron de Chirel” Reserva 2001, which was gifted to me a few years back. Baron de Chirel is one of the top top wines from Marqués de Riscal, so you’d expect it to last decades. But should I? I don’t know. Will it drink now, or should I keep it? What’s the point in keeping wines for too long anyway, and shouldn’t I carpe that diem and drink it now? The finest moments in wine are often experienced on a whim, so I should open it now and feck it. I should, I should … but would the whim be best experienced now or next year? And so on.

So I opened it. It was delicious. Lots of big dark fruits like plums and blackberries, and after a while the gamey savoury-ness  and leather notes you often hear about regarding aged Tempranillo (from which Rioja is made) and then, of course, lots of chewy vanilla.

This comes from the extended aging in oak which imparts vanillin characteristics to the wine – Rioja Reserva wines are required by law to age at least three years before release, of which one full year must be in oak, and in the case of Baron de Chirel 2001 it’s 21 months. I’m not mad into that vanilla thing that almost all Reserva Riojas are guaranteed to have, but it’s part of the package so I just learn to put up with it.

What’s more the wine was delicious all evening, and even into the next day, where I took a sip the following morning, all in the name of research of course. The tannins were nice and subtle and the length was fab. All in all, a good decision to open.

But did I time it right? The internet is ambiguous in this regard. Cellar Tracker, a social-media approach to wine where wine lovers post their own views on thousands of wines, tells me the drinking window ended in 2008, which is what Wine Spectator said too. nicofisher, one of its users, assured me that it still has five years ahead if it. The grande dame of the wine world Jancis Robinson says it’ll last to 2020. So I hope you can understand why this is not a straightforward issue.

As for me? Yeah, whatever. But I wonder what it would have been like in five years’ time…

Marqués de Riscal “Baron de Chirel” Reserva 2001
As it was a gift I’m not sure how much it was, but expect it to be around €50
Rioja, Spain
85% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
www.marquesderiscal.com

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