what can you expect from a 25 year old villages wine?

Update 8.1.2011(7.1.2011)billn

I openly admit that I’m an advocate of letting wines age; I may not be searching for near-death experiences but I’m also interested in letting wines express themselves. With a rush (rash?) of decent vintages starting to pile-up what should you expect if you stock up on 2009s and look to play the ‘long game’? 1985 was a ripe vintage, analogous might be 1990, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2009, though that middle trio will have more acidity and perhaps even more aging potential.

It’s a simple test: take a couple of basic, twenty-five year-old villages wines from 1985 and see what awaits. In this case one is from a no-name negociant which nobody has heard of but apparently was still making wines in at least 2000 (I think they are a Swiss importer with an office in Nuits), the other, again from a negociant, but one with more to lose in the reputation stakes!


1985 Lionel de Pontbriand, Gevrey-Chambertin
Medium-plus ruby-red that fades and transforms to mahogany at the rim. Deep, slightly musky and meaty aromas over a sweeter, almost sugared core of fruit – if anything it puts on ever-more weight with time. This has a lovely silky fatness to the texture and hints at sweetness before snatching it away again – fully ripe at harvest? – yet there is a mineral, almost metallic flavour at the core that seems almost cleansing, the acidity is quite understated. Half an hour in glass and the metallic impression is gone and there’s more than a hint of some extra mid-palate flavour. The finish may be a little understated but its reminiscent of sweet and dark, bitter-chocolate and it’s very long.
Rebuy – Maybe

1985 Joseph Drouhin, Gevrey-Chambertin
Medium-plus colour, tending more to mahogany than red. The nose has limited width, but quite some brown-sugared and warm-fruited depth. There is less silk to the texture but a more open and sweet flavour, like-able as it is, I still have the occasional faint impression of something oxidative (the cork slid out very easily) and a last vestige of tannic astringency. Slowly fading on a similar bitter-chocolate note to the previous wine, though perhaps not with the length of the Pontbriand.
Rebuy – Maybe

So a 25-year report? There actually was quite some similarity in terms of depth of colour, concentration and overall character. The Drouhin is the easier to like – a comfy wine – the Pontbriand has more interest and eventually complexity too, you need to sit up to drink it. Although it’s easy to be ‘intrigued’ by older regional wines (Bourgognes), at this age your starting mateial should really be a good villages because here you will get the first hint of ‘somewhereness’ and the requisite density and character to deliver something more than ‘just’ intriguing! I expect 1985 could be a good model for 1990s and all those 2009s you are ordering!

The $64,000 question, of-course is, is it worth waiting that long? Clearly that will depend on your taste, but at this village level and for these particular wines, with 20:20 hindsight I might have drunk 75% in the first 3 or 4 years and the last 3 bottles from the case for now. For decent premier crus, I’d expect to invert those proportions and more-so for the Grand Crus. Talking of which, I think I might be able to rustle up one or two of those too…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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