Wine myths, part II: A wine has to be ageworthy to be special

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

10 January 2019

In this series on wine myths, Darren Smith sets out to debunk some commonly held assumptions about wine and its production…

The growing trend towards lighter styles of wine is making us fundamentally question whether a wine must be ageworthy to be considered special. The UK is perhaps the worst offender on this point. We seem to have a bit of a reputation for being the gerontophiles of the wine-drinking world. But there is a generational and cultural shift going on. Somms and wine managers are far more respectful of the quaffable end of the wine spectrum nowadays.

‘I think it is a generational thing, it is a status thing,’ says Emma Underwood, general manager and wine manager of Stem restaurant in Mayfair.

‘You can’t argue that Bordeaux and Burgundy don’t age well, but then you have a lot of producers who are making wines which are supposed to be drunk younger,’ highlights Underwood, ‘and then we’ve seen recently a growing trend of young people coming into the industry, young winemakers, young sommeliers, and they’re interested in making wine more accessible, more fun and more easy-drinking.’

Testalonga Chin Up Cinsault

A crunchy, herbal, delicately earthy vin de soif style of Swartland Cinsault which keeps the drinker sniffing, swirling and swallowing to the last drop.

Winemaker Craig Hawkins says: ‘[My Cinsault vineyard] is a beautiful vineyard but if I try and force it to make a more extracted wine, a wine for ageing 10 years, it wouldn’t be able to do that. It’s a great block but I think it’s best in a much lighter style.’

‘We’ll deliberately look at wines that are 11-12% – they’re kind of like aperitif-style wines. We’ve just started featuring the 2017 vintage of the [Staffelter Hof] Magnus Riesling from Modal Wines and we sell loads of that. We sell a lot of 2NaturKinder – a Müller-Thurgau natural wine from Kitzingen in Germany – that’s about 11%. We sell loads and loads of Gamay – Beaujolais I think has really come back into fashion…’

The point here is not just about drinkability. It’s about appreciating these lighter wines on their own terms. When we do so, we should recognise that it’s eminently possible to have great wines which express their terroir, that are very complex, but that are meant for early drinking. South African winemaker Craig Hawkins provides a good example: the Chin Up Cinsault from his Baby Bandito range.

‘It is a vin de soif but it’s actually one of the most complex wines I’ve made,’ he explains. ‘It’s very, very delicate – it reminds me of a Jura red. If you want to just drink it, it’s there, but if you actually want to think about it, it’s there as well. It’s not just a fruit bomb at all – quite the opposite.’

In wine, as in life, greatness is relative. No one is going to knock the experience of tasting a fully matured Conterno Barolo. But the emotions such a wine can provoke can also be provoked by a beautifully made lighter wine.

‘A special wine is an emotional wine,’ says Les Caves de Pyrene’s romantic-in-chief, Doug Wregg. ‘It doesn’t have to be profound. The brilliance of a prickling, lithe, primary fruit-flavoured Jura Poulsard or Pinot can be utterly satisfying and pleasurable – which is the main aim of wine.’

‘We don’t say autumn is better than spring, nor secondary aromatics and flavours better than primary ones. I love Pinot in its unabashed naked primary state. And if you aged certain wines you wouldn’t enjoy them.’

‘The mayfly can live a glorious life!’

Vines don't have to suffer to make great wine –  read part one of Darren Smith's wine-myth debunking series here

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