Recovering the Lost Art of Aged Wine in Today’s Instant Gratification-Focused Society

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Apr. 24 2024, Published 5:11 a.m. ET

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The idiom “aged like fine wine” is often used to describe something or someone that becomes better over time, maturing gracefully and increasing in value. Almost everyone is aware of this phrase, and it’s ironic that people today are so focused on the ‘right here, right now’ mentality that even wine is not given a chance to age well. The installation of barcode scanners in stores allowed researchers to gain insight into people’s buying habits, and a study by Sonoma State University revealed that 90% of buyers open a bottle of wine within two weeks after buying it, which is virtually instant, given that wine takes years to age.

According to Chuck Easley, owner of Sonoma, California-based La Rochelle Wines, Pinot Noir is one of the varietals of wine that typically age well due to its higher acidity and tannin content. The most valuable wines are those that age well, with those of older vintage frequently fetching high prices, due to their rarity and more complex flavors. However, due to market demand, most Pinot Noirs from California are now sold within a year or two after vintage and are not intended to age as well as classic Pinot Noirs. Many commercial winemakers love this trend, as the wine doesn’t need to be aged in the bottle and can be sold at a quicker pace, resulting in lower storage costs and quicker returns.

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Easley also notes that the wines that appeal to the mass audience tend to be sweet. In the 1970s and 1980s, winemakers discovered that most people were no longer aging their wines and that making them sweeter and less acidic made them easier to drink. This led to an increase in wine sales, which Easley says was also a good thing, as more people became aware of wine.

La Rochelle, on the other hand, prefers to do things the old-fashioned way, much like classic European producers. La Rochelle traces its roots to the Mirassou family, descendants of the individuals who brought the Pinot Noir grape to California from France. Compared with other wineries that are now selling their 2021 and 2022 vintage Pinot Noirs, La Rochelle’s current releases are of 2018 and 2019 vintage, and can be aged for between 10 and 20 years.

According to Easley, he recently learned from a famous chef that there are so many things that can be done to a dish to change its flavor, but only two things can improve it: salt and acidity. This somewhat parallels what he knew about wine for a long time: that acidity is a key ingredient for ageability, one of the hallmarks of a high-value wine.

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“One of the things that makes an aged wine great is the acidity. When a wine with high acidity is young, it’s very tart and most people won’t like it,” Easley says. “But give it time, and that acidity is what will make it taste great, creating so many flavors and textures that are not present in the younger wine. I think of acidity as a volume knob for flavor, and turning it up will result in something magical after aging it for 15 or 20 years.”

Today, obtaining the right grapes to create the perfect ageable Pinot Noir in California has become harder due to climate change. The grapes must come from a vineyard that doesn't get too hot because they tend to lose acidity when temperatures get higher. Furthermore, the grapes dehydrate instead of ripening, preventing the unique flavors from developing. Today, there are only around a couple dozen vineyards in California that can grow grapes that reach full maturity, developing the complex flavors and maintaining the acidity. Thanks to La Rochelle’s long 170-year heritage, it has strong relationships with these vineyards, allowing it to get the best quality grapes to turn into Pinot Noir.

“In today’s fast-paced life that values the quick and easy things, aging wine has become a lost art,” Easley says. “However, I believe that all wines fall into two categories. There are instant gratification wines and the more age-worthy and complex wines. At La Rochelle, we focus on the latter. Good things take time, and part of our mission is to reintroduce to people the joy and satisfaction of opening a wine that has taken the time to age properly and develop all the unique flavors and textures, providing an unforgettable experience to all who drink it.”


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