Saturday March 19, 2016
In the tasting room we often get questions about aging wines. I usually throw out a stat along the lines of “More than 90% of all wine purchased is consumed within one week.” (Of course, I’ve also heard that most statistics are made up on the spot, and this is no exception). Obviously, I have heard, or perhaps read, at some point that this is the case. So I sat down a few weeks ago and tried to nail down that statistic. After an hour of Google searches, I found only a couple of references. Both seem to validate my “from the hip” statistic. It’s pretty hard to nail the number down since it’s a moving average, and likely varies by region, demographics, time, responses to surveys, etc.
Supporting my theory, I found that the Wine Curmudgeon says, “How long does the average American keep a bottle of wine? Not very long at all. As much as 90 percent of the wine bought in the U.S. is drunk within 24 hours, even though the Wine Magazines make it seem like buying wine to age is quite common. And, depending on the study, some 95 percent of all wine purchased in the U.S. is consumed within a week.”
And even one of those “wine magazines” mentioned by the Curmudgeon, Wine Enthusiast, says “While most oenophiles are aware of the benefits of aging certain bottles, more than 80 percent of wines are consumed within 48 hours of being purchased, while more than 95 percent are consumed within six months, the editors point out.”
Over the last several years, as kukkula has morphed from an upstart winery relying almost exclusively on purchased fruit, to entirely estate produced wines, I’ve thought a lot about how the wines evolve over time, especially the wines made from my own fruit. I am excited about how each successive vintage seems to bring added layers of weight and complexity to the wines and how the aging process enhances this.
I also wait anxiously for the reviews on our most recent wines from the critics, and although the reviews are really positive and the scores are climbing, the rate of climb is slow and doesn’t seem to follow the quality jump that I feel the wines made as we transitioned to estate fruit. Last year I decided to hold off on submitting our 2013 vintage wines because I’m convinced that they, and all successive vintages, would be better appreciated with an additional year of aging before being reviewed. It remains to be seen though, as the reviews of those wines will come out this summer/fall!
At home, I’m really good about decanting our young wines, as well as labels other than kukkula. Usually I’ll try to give them at least an hour, perhaps two, of time to breathe. But there are many times when my intentions are derailed by other obligations, and Paula calls me to dinner. Then I’m scrambling for a bottle, which is consumed with only minutes of air on it. Usually by the last glass, the wines seem to really start opening up. And although we’ve mostly enjoyed the experience, I’m remorseful that I didn’t get it opened sooner. (Of course, I just realized dinner is in an hour, so I broke away to decant some wine!).
In the tasting room, we typically will pour at least a couple of our earlier vintages along with a few of the newest releases. We currently distribute virtually none of our wines, and as such we still have some 2010 and 2011 blends. While I would prefer that not be the case, and I know that the inventory, over time, will continue to tighten up, I’ve begun to really appreciate being able to share wines that have been laid down for a few years with visitors to the tasting room.
At the Jussila dinner table it’s more typical that I’ll be pouring a red with perhaps 5 – 10 years of age on it, yet I still feel this need to pour wines that are the latest releases in the tasting room. Consumers have been well trained over the last couple of decades to buy that which is the newest. Reviewers of wine generally dictate the most recent vintages to review. Distributors only want to sell the latest wines. So, the consumer dutifully consumes wines that are tight, too tannic, or just not yet properly integrated. They’re missing out on the experience of savoring a wine that has aged for a few to several years. It’s these experiences that really got me excited about wine and winemaking a quarter century ago.
Last night I opened a bottle of 2005 Château Kirwan to pair with a beef brisket from our neighbors at Adelaida Springs Ranch that Paula slow cooked with onions, carrots, and mushrooms. The meal was spectacular! This wine is eleven years old, and probably could use another five years in the bottle (Luckily I have several left!). But with 11 years of age, the tannins were now quite approachable. The tenderness of the meat with a touch of marbled fat balanced beautifully with the big tannins, dark fruit, and dense mouthfeel of the Kirwan. I wouldn’t have had as enjoyable an experience if I had opened the wine after only 3 – 4 years.
Bordeaux wines quite typically need to be aged longer than wines from the Paso AVA, but kukkula’s biggest blends like sisu, pas de deux, and noir really should have at least 3 – 5 years of age to be properly experienced. They would likely be in their prime starting around 5 – 7 years from now, and could probably enjoy at least a decade of cellaring.
I know that many people don’t have the ability to cellar a lot of wine. I also hear from a lot of my Gen X buyers that they really want to consume wines more immediately, partly because they don’t store wines, and partly because they just like the immediacy of the experience. So, I guess I should feel good about having the older vintages, since it allows me to put the brakes on and not release my wines too early.
For our club members, you’ve already received my email laying out the spring release wines. I think you’ll really enjoy the ’10 and ’11 sisu and pas de deux. I know I am! For those of you who are not members, you won’t be able to get the ’14 Aatto at this point, but you can buy the others when you visit. Or, you could order some from our website at www.kukkulawine.com.…. orbetter yet, you could become a member and have no restrictions on purchasing the wines we produce!