Sunday, 18 December 2011

Time for a tidy-up - or how sweet wines taste several weeks or months after opening

I have a weakness for sweet wines of just about every description. The problem is that, although TLD and I certainly don't drink to excess, we tend to have so many bottles of wine sitting around in the kitchen at any given time (some brought back from various tasting events, others that we have opened and not quite finished) that some of them tend to get hidden or forgotten. So I decided recently that it was time to have a bit of a clear-out and make some much-needed extra space in the kitchen. Which provided an opportunity to prove (or disprove) my theory that many sweet wines actually improve for a good while after opening - in some cases, for a very long while. So here are my notes on around 15 wines, the remains of which I have tasted over the last couple of days, beginning with a trio of delicious German Rieslings......

Deinhard Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Auslese 1976 Rheingau
4 weeks open. My oh my, that colour - a perfectly brilliant, limpid amber/gold - not bad for a 35 year-old sweet white wine! I've been privileged to taste a fair few German wines from the fabled 1976 vintage and none of them have ever disappointed. And this one is no different. The nose offers a wonderfully complex array of aromas, notably orange marmalade, roses, allspice, fenugreek and toffee, with just a hint of trademark kerosene, whilst the palate is alive with flavours of soft citrus, butterscotch, spices and herbs and a simply mouth-watering backbone of tangy acidity and minerality. The label doesn't say what the alcohol is, but I guess it must be no more than 9 or 10% abv. Whatever, this really is an exquisite wine, which hasn't suffered one bit from being open for around 5 or 6 weeks. Oh how I wish there was more than half a glass for me to enjoy!

Dr. Burkin-Wolf Wachenheimer Bohlig Riesling Beerenauslese 1989 Rheinpfalz
4 weeks open. This is a similar colour, though perhaps just a bit cloudy, though this in no way detracts from the enjoyment. The intensity level is certainly a notch higher, as can be expected from this "Pradikat" level (and from another great year, of course), with super-concentrated aromas and flavours of orange and lime, again something distinctly floral, and again with stoney minerality and a simply wonderful, almost Madeira-like tang, combining a touch of salinity and stunning citric acidity. 10.0% abv. It isn't necessarily a better wine than the 1976 Auslese - just different, and just as good. It has been a joy to revisit both of them. Amazing wines!

Kurt Hain Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2009 Mosel
2 months open. By comparison, this is pure infanticide - a 2 year-old wine that probably needs a good 10 or 15 years to really get into its stride. It is highly-perfumed, evoking spring flowers, freshly-crushed grapes, mandarin and apricot, whilst the palate is packed with intense, ripe, youthful, minerally Riesling flavours (typical of this, another great vintage). It is a lovely wine, with a great future ahead of it, but doesn't (yet) match the greatness of the above 2 wines. But give it a few years......... 7.5% abv.

Then to some full-on dessert wines......... 

2 months open. My goodness, this is a real turn-up for the books. When I first opened this bottle, I had marked it down as a wine possessed of a fabulous level of concentration and intensity, though possibly at the expense of a little of the eye-watering acidity and minerality of previous vintages. But I was wrong, for after a full 2 months of air, the concentration is still there - along with a definite whiff and flavour of honeyed botrytis - but that trademark acidity and intense minerality has come to the fore. So much so that we are very definitely back in mouth-watering territory again (I think there is a theme developing here)! If you want the complete low-down on this wine, then read the note on my website, but be sure to add a couple of extra marks onto what you read, courtesy of the development afforded by those 2 months of air. Simply stunning wine - and if you want some, it will set you back a mere £17.50. And that is for a 75cl bottle! 13.0% abv.

Andrew Quady Essensia Orange Blossom Muscat 2008 Madera, California
I honestly have no idea how long this has been open, but it may have been sitting on the kitchen worktop for as much as a year. OK, so it is no longer youthful or overtly fruit or "Muscatty", but it is still an enjoyable drop. A definite and quite cloudy amber colour, with lots of sediment, but with oodles of Seville orange marmalade aromas and flavours, notes of dried apricot, fig, root ginger and toffee, with a slightly madeirised tang and still plenty of acidity. Sort of Tokaji-meets-Muscat de Rivesaltes. Very enjoyable, with some decent complexity. 15% abv (but not fortified, as far as I know).

Mullineux Straw Wine 2009 Swartland, South Africa
On the other hand, I can say exactly how long this one has been open, because I reviewed it 10 months ago in February 2011. Back then, I wrote "I was expecting sweet and sour and tangy, but all I get is sweet." Well now I get the "tangy", for the acidity has finally managed to cut through some of that gargantuan sweetness. Don't get me wrong, it is still uber-sweet - and still almost too sweet for my palate - but the flavours have begun to meld together into something altogether more interesting, with those intense, marmalade and treacle flavours augmented by flavours of bonfire toffee, dates, figs, apricots (in fact, all manner of preserved fruits). And of course, 10 months-worth of oxygen, which has worked wonders for the (previously non-existent) level of complexity, not to mention the colour, which was treacle then, but is molasses now. And it is still possibly the sweetest wine I have ever tasted, which definitely needs more time - and lots of it. If I had another bottle, then I would tuck it away to enjoy on New Year's Eve - 2061. 8.0% abv.

Chateau Rives-Blanques Lagremas d'Aur Vendange d'Hiver 2006 Vin de France
5 months open. A blend of Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, harvested in winter. Although it still has some winey notes, it also has some tertiary, slightly cheesy notes (not unusual in Chenin-based wines) and a touch of candied white fruit. To be honest, the palate has lost some of its zest and fruit, though it still has decent length and a nice warm, slightly tangy finish.

Domaine d'Archimbaud Vendange d'Automne 2006 Vin de France
One month open. 100% Bourboulenc, a variety peculiar to the Languedoc, harvested in late autumn. I've written enthusiastically about a previous bottle of this wine, which had actually been open for much longer than a month, so this one only serves to confirm what I previously said, which is basically that it is a sublime wine, which benefits greatly from weeks (or even months) of air. Cracking stuff, and I can sell you some at the extremely reasonable price of £14.95. 14.0% abv.

And finally, a selection of fortified wines.........

Morris Liquer Muscat NV South Eastern Australia
6 months(?) I've always had a soft spot for this sort of wine, which is a speciality of quite a few growers in the region of Rutherglen, Victoria. This one, though, is labelled as South-Eastern Australia - always a bad sign, in my book, as it indicates a pretty generic wine, with grapes sourced from all over the place. It was a bit boring when I opened it and it is a bit boring now, with barely-adequate acidity, some figgy, pruney notes and toffee - but zero interest. It's a shame I have another bottle to get through. 17.5% abv.

De Bortoli Show Liquer Muscat NV South Eastern Australia
Possibly a year? This is a bit more like it - deep amber/brown and amazingly viscous, with intense flavours of marmalade, coffee, a hint of bitter dark chocolate, lots of Oloroso-like intensity and tanginess and a decent shot of orangey acidity. It isn't hugely complex, but it isn't cloying either. It hits the spot with a generous, spicy warmth and lingering, rich, marmalade and christmas cake flavours. A very decent drop, which shows no sign of deterioration. 18.0% abv.

Cave de Paziols Villa Passant Rivesaltes Hors d'Age 1989
3 months(?) I could be wrong (though I can't be bothered to look it up) but I thought "Hors d'Age" was a term for a blend of wines from different vintages, aged for a good number of years before release. But this one says 1989, so I can only assume it is from that vintage. It has held up well - even more so, considering the bottle was opened 2 or 3 months ago. As Rivesaltes go, this is a decent one, perhaps just turning a touch cheesy, but still with lots of nutty/tangy/rancio aromas and flavours, fruitcake, citrus and maybe even a hint of coffee. Oh, and excellent acidity - a pre-requisite in any good sweet wine. Not a great wine, but a very decent one. 15% abv.

Domaine Sol-Payré Terre de Pierres Rivesaltes Hors d'Age
Open for 6 months. No vintage shown on this one, which I bought whilst on a visit to the grower (whose red wines have of course been a mainstay of my list for a good few years). I can't honestly say that Rivesaltes is my favourite style of fortified wine - with it's extreme "rancio" aromas and flavours and distinct lack of grapiness, it feels like a bit of a halfway house between a dry Oloroso Sherry and a sweet Port and (despite the relatively low alcohol level) always seems a touch on the hot side. This is clearly a fine example of its kind, but possibly lacks the mellowness only found in the very best examples. There's plenty of body and burnt marmalade richness, together with a nice core of tangy acidity, and it is very long, but it lacks the real charm I am looking for. I suspect that some people would really love it (and I suppose I really ought to sell it) but I can't bring myself to give it a glowing write-up. Though having said that, it is better now than when I first opened it, so I suspect it will be rather good in another 10 or 20 years(!) 15.5% abv.

Mas de Lavail Expression 2008 Maury
6 months open. This wine, on the other hand, never fails to excite me. Like the pair of Rivesaltes above, it is made from 100% Grenache, and is actually slightly higher in alcohol at 16.0% abv, but it is so deliciously fruity and alive. The reason being that it is made by a process known as "mutage sur grains". Basically, the fully-ripe grape must is fermented just short of a normal dry wine, before the addition of a dollop of grape brandy, which stops the fermentation in its tracks. This results in a classic vintage Maury with some residual sweetness, but plenty of acidity and a warming hint of alcohol. Getting it just right can be a bit of a balancing act, but when done well, it makes for a style that is wonderfully hedonistic, yet not without subtlety - a wine just like this, in fact. It is pretty rich, with amazingly concentrated bramble and black cherry fruit and Christmas cake aromas and flavours, together with firm but ripe tannins and a warming coat of spicy alcohol, but it also possesses a backbone of deliciously juicy acidity, in a sweet/sour/tangy wine of real interest, depth and complexity. Several months on, some of the overt fruitiness has given way to an attractive savouriness, which makes it possibly - nay, definitely - even more enjoyable and complex than when first opened. Even after all that time, it is a gorgeous drink, and very long too. It also just happens to be just about the perfect Christmas wine. To my mind, this is a very special wine and is one of the top 5 bargains on my list at just £15.25.

Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal Colheita 2005
2 months. Again, I sell this one, so I won't bore you with an identical tasting note, as it hasn't changed one bit in 2 months - and it is still completely yummy! I sell it for the rather ridiculous price of £12.95 (again, for a full 75cl bottle).

Quinta do Vesuvio 1992 Vintage Port
6 months(?) Somebody brought this to the Nottingham Wine Circle a good few months ago and - though I have never been a huge fan of Port - it was rather special. Perhaps even amongst the best 2 or 3 Ports I have ever tasted. Several months down the line, it is managing to hang on rather well - still a touch alcoholic (one of the things that I least like about Port is that it always seems a bit to spiritous) but still with plenty of juicy, complex black and red fruits, vanilla, spice, fruitcake and toffee, with a hint of savouriness/meatiness and a very long, warming finish. I once read a comment by someone who said that vintage Port should be consumed within a few hours of opening, to which I say "Poppycock"! This is not quite as fresh as the day it was opened, but is still just as complex and enjoyable.

So there you have it. As long as a sweet wine has something to preserve it - be that residual sugar, tannin, acidity, or all of these things - as well as a modicum of structure and complexity, it can provide enjoyable drinking for weeks, or even months, after opening. You heard it here first!


AlanM said...

Your kitchen must be quite a place, full of hidden treasures. Amazing how resilient some of these wines are. Nice post.

Graham said...

I presume that in future you'll open all your dessert wines as soon as they arrive chez Leon.
I find it hard to believe there were none that had fallen apart, or have you just not mentioned them.

Leon Stolarski said...

Alan - my kitchen is actually on the small side, and my worktops have been clogged-up with bottles galore for far too long. Therefore, this was an ideal opportunity to have a good clear-out!

Graham - Apart from a "generic" Port that has also been sitting there for a year or so, I wrote about every other one that had been sitting around. And I can honestly say that none of them had fallen apart.

Colin Bradley said...

I agree with you on the Mullineux, Leon. If people were making sweet wine to please Parker, in the same way that Pavie makes claret and Molldydooker makes shiraz with that aim in mind, this is the sort of sweet wine they'd make.

Leon Stolarski said...

Yes, it's a tough wine to taste with all that sugar, Colin. I always look for decent acidity in a wine, even sweet ones.