“Out with the old and in with the new” is a concept many people celebrate as December ends and a new year begins. However, it isn’t always accurate when it comes to wine; there, it’s more about “out with the oldest, and in with the old.”
Many a wine-lover can quote lines from the movie “The Jerk,” starring Steve Martin. His character, Navin Johnson, is dining, and when the waiter asks if Navin would like another bottle of Chateau Latour, from a prominent 18th-century French winery, Navin exclaims, “Ah yes, but no more 1966. Let’s splurge! Bring us some fresh wine! The freshest you’ve got — this year! No more of this old stuff.”
In winemaking, the term “vintage” refers to the year the grapes were harvested and the creation of the wine began, a seasonal time known as crush. Often, the release and sale of a wine — especially a red wine — takes place two years or more from the vintage.
For many collectors, it may periodically be necessary to enjoy some of the oldest wines from their cellar, in order to make room for the newer “old.”
An annual cellar-diminishment party can be a way to clear space for newer bottles. These events are hosted by collectors who are happy to share their wealth of wines. Sometimes guests are welcomed to bring wines from their cellar, as well. The host often provides glasses, water and the wine-dumping vessels.
However, cellar-diminishment parties don’t just involve bottles of wine; a potluck of appetizers adds to the evening. These gatherings are a wonderful way to catch up with old friends and meet new folks, and even learn something new about a wine and a vintage you might not otherwise have an opportunity to taste.
Collectors of wine, especially those with large cellars, often belong to wine clubs or purchase futures of wines — meaning the wine has been produced, but is not yet released. These purchases often guarantee the wine-lover a collection of “verticals” and “horizontals.”
Vertical wine-tastings can include two to 10 or more vintages of the same wine varietal, from a single or dominant grape variety, from the same winery. Vertical tastings provide an opportunity to examine and learn about the different vintages, especially how the wine ages and evolves with time.
The differences between the years might be great or minute. The flavor components of the vintages are dependent on the weather during the growing months and the craftsmanship of the vintage, but still maintain a common thread: the winery.
In vertical tastings, wines are always served in chronologic order, traditionally from youngest to oldest, with the theory that “fresh” wines may be simpler and the mature wines more complex. Therefore, it allows the wine-taster’s palate to build throughout the tasting.
However, this isn’t always true, as many younger wines can be big, tannic and more powerful, while older wines become more mellow and subtle over time. It’s like the difference between biting into a crisp piece of fresh fruit and eating a piece of purposely dried and aged fruit.
In wine-tasting, where there is a vertical, there is also a horizontal. Horizontal wine-tastings are not as complicated, as the wines are from the same vintage, but from different wineries. A tasting of two or more bottles of the 2010 vintages of Merlots from the Columbia Valley region in Washington state is an example of a horizontal.
This theme of wine-tasting gives the wine-lover insight into the growing characteristics, such as soil and weather, that are unique to that wine-producing region, while acknowledging the different producers and their styles.
An added twist to a horizontal tasting is to taste “blind.” In these tastings, the wine labels are hidden and the bottles placed in bags before guests arrive, with the goal of determining the producer of the wine.
Whether you are a connoisseur or a novice, there is always something new to discover about wine. Sip, enjoy and create a wine gathering with delicious goals for the New Year.