Readers talk back ... Ageworthy whites
Wednesday's dissertation on white wines that can benefit from cellar time brought more than the usual three bags full of comments by E-mail and in our online forum. Many of your remarks took the form, "Great list, but how could you possibly have failed to mention ... "
So let's carry on the discussion for another day and add a few more noteworthy white-wine categories to the list of whites that - assuming good selection and decent storage conditions - will reward careful aging.
Sauvignon Blanc. Personally, I consider this an iffy category, because a lot of Sauvignon Blanc needs to be drunk up while it's young and fresh, and doesn't do anything but fade with time. But, points out longtime online pal and Wine Lovers Discussion Group stalwart Manuel C., "Of course, one has to think of white Graves ... My contention has always been that those wines, in their youth, are nothing compared to what they become over 30-40 years in the cellar. And if you don't believe me, just go inquire from a bottle of '64 Laville-Haut-Brion or Haut-Brion Blanc." Point taken. White Bordeaux, especially from Graves, can become sublime with careful cellaring. I won't even quibble that most of it is blended with a little Semillon. (On the other side of the world, I also have Kiwi friends who swear by aged New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, although my own experiments with older vintages of Cloudy Bay haven't particularly impressed me. At best, it becomes smooth and mellow but gradually loses the "over-the-top" qualities that make it special.)
Latin exceptions. From Northern Italy, Kimberly K. writes, "Terlano, from the Alto Adige is an 'azienda' that has achieved miraculous results with some their white wines that are not oaked. They claim it is the strenuous, Northern Italian climate that makes the grapes suffer, giving them their aging power! I have personally visited the winery and have had a 60-year-old blend that the producer claims is still not at its prime!" Manuel speaks up for Spain, noting that "old-school white Rioja, particularly that made by López de Heredia and Marqués de Murrieta, can live for a half-century." And Herman G., writing from The Netherlands, speaks up for ageworthy White Port. Herman ought to know - he and his wife Elly run the excellent Port-information Website www.infoportwine.com, bilingually in Dutch and English.
Austrian whites. Several of you, including longtime correspondent Harald T., in Vienna, gently chided me for failing to mention Austria's sturdy, minerally Grüner Veltliner as a potential ager. Added Dietmar in Vienna: "You will find dry Veltliners coming from the 50s, 60s, 70s in perfect condition." They're right, of course - I still remember a delicious tasting at the Mantlerhof winery in Donauland several years ago, where we tasted Josef Mantler's 1961 GV (as well as a Riesling of the same vintage) that was still going strong.
Chenin Blanc. Last but far from least, from New York City to London and beyond, the Loire-head contingent came out of the woodwork to shout for their favorite; and rightly so. Chenin Blanc may be the most ageworthy of white varieties, jostling with Riesling for its share of the crown. A spirited debate on this point quickly developed in our online forum. "When you speak of aging whites, the No. 1 wine that pops in my mind is Vouvray," Walt C. wrote. "I have had 40-year-old demi-secs that are as fresh as yesterday's bottling." Chris C. agreed, adding, "I was reading this thread with increasing astonishment until I finally came across a voice of reason. Good Vouvray is practically immortal, and, in the hands of a top producer, just keeps getting better as the decades roll past."
OK! I'm persuaded. And glad to give all of you your say. Wrapping it up, again: Most whites (and, for that matter, a majority of reds) aren't meant for aging. But if you have the patience, and the storage facilities, and choose your wines wisely, you can certainly cellar a broad variety of whites for decades with delicious results.
To underscore the point, I went a bit upscale from our usual budget range to sample a classic Loire Chenin Blanc for today's tasting. It was infanticide, of course, to sacrifice a two-year-old Huet 2002 Le Haut-Lieu Demi-Sec Vouvray on the altar of science. But it was a pleasant ritual indeed; if far short of the depth and complexity it would have shown in a decade - or three - it's luscious and crystalline, deep and clear as a mountain pool, delicious now and worth putting aside for the long haul.
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Huet 2002 Le Haut-Lieu Demi-Sec Vouvray ($28.99)
Very clear and pale but showing a distinct golden hue, this excellent Loire Chenin Blanc offers luscious aromas of grapefruit, honey and hints of tangerine. It's full-bodied and richly textured, full of juicy, ripe grapefruit flavor, with natural fresh-fruit sweetness well balanced by firm, steely acidity; delicious mixed-citrus flavors linger with a haunting minerality in a very long finish; subtle complexity builds as the wine warms in the glass, but it's never muddy, always clear and vivid, a remarkable wine but so young that it's showing only a distant preview of its future promise. A "biodynamique" organic wine certified by Demeter International. U.S. importer: Europvin USA, Oakland, Calif. (Oct. 28, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with a dish crafted to go with its anticipated flavors: Pork chops with caramelized onions, fresh figs and a quick sweet-tart-piquant sauce of apricot jam and lime juice with a dash of Asian Sriracha hot sauce.
VALUE: Not an everyday wine, but more than justifies its under-$30 price; doubly so if you have the patience and the facilities to cellar it. It's worth shopping around, as online prices vary significantly, from $25 to $35 for the 2002 at U.S. vendors, around £15 in the UK and €13 to €18 on the Continent.
WHEN TO DRINK: Juicy and delicious now, but likely to develop wondrous complexity after a decade in a cool cellar. Take care in the interim, though, as quality Loire Chenin Blancs tend to go "dumb" during their first decade after their youthful fruit fades.
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Friday, Oct. 29, 2004