Wine’s capacity for aging is well documented. Birthday card salutations like to suggest that people aren’t growing up, they’re maturing like fine wine. Novelty T-shirts come emblazoned with the message 'I’m not getting older. I’m getting better.'
But what about grape vines?
A number of wines, more often than not bottles of red, are marketed as being the product of old vines, Vieilles Vignes or Vigne Vecchie, depending on the country of origin. Does that make them better?
Winemakers will be the first to tell you that their job requires patience. When you plant a new vineyard, it’s three years until your first crop and longer still before those vines perform at their best.
Parallels are often drawn to children. The early years involve lots of care and attention. By age 10 or so, vines have established root systems and are stronger to cope with their environment on their own.
Wine made from older vines have long been praised as having more character than that from younger vines, which tend to offer more overt fruit flavours. You can make good wine from young vineyards; they just take more work.
The problem for consumers is there’s no regulations for classifying old vines. It’s up to the producer to decide what “old vines” means to them.
In the case of the Vieilles Vignes Pinot Noir from Burgundy reviewed today, the winery reports that the vineyards employed were between 25 and 35 years of age, which typically yields less and more concentrated fruit than more vigorous younger vines. In Burgundy, winemaking convention suggests that a vine enters its prime of life at 25 to 30 years of age.
The measuring stick for Old Vine Zinfandel producers in California is typically 35 years and up. Quality producers want to see that barrier pushed to 50 years and older but have been unable to reach consensus.
Meanwhile, progressive growers in Barossa, Australia, where many of the world’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (Shiraz) vines are located, have established an Old Vine charter that states vines 35 years and older can be labelled Barossa Old Vines. Seventy-year-old vines are identified as Survivor Vines, 100-year-olds are Centenarian Vines and 125-year-olds are Ancestor Vines in this voluntary code.
The world of wine is rife with manipulation and marketing smoke and mirrors. Old vines' wines aren’t necessarily better, but they offer an interesting prospect to wine lovers who want to think about where the wine they are enjoying comes from and how they were made.
Wines of the Week:
*** Albert Bichot 2011 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Pinot Noir
BC $18 | AB $18 (723400) | ON $15.95 (166959)
Made in a dry style, this layered and refreshing red wine showcases cranberry/cherry flavours. A seriously good match for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner spread, this would also work nicely with mushroom pasta, duck or lamb dishes. Serve slightly chilled for best effect.
***1/2 Bouchard Père & Fils 2012 Bourgogne Pinot Noir
BC $27.99 (493544) | AB $26 (367128) | MB $26.03 (493544) | ON $19.95 (605667)
This dry red is a good introduction to the understated personality of Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Offering a mix of red fruit, black pepper and earthy aromas, this lighter-bodied wine boasts good concentration and structure that suggests its best enjoyment would be with a meal. Think roast poultry or summer salads.