These days most Burgundian wines are consumed well before they are mature or even before they begin to mature. This is really sad, as many consumers miss the complexity a great Burgundy can develop after 20 or 30 years in the cellar.
In fact quite many of the consumers of expensive Burgundies have most likely never tasted a truly great and fully mature Burgundy in their life .. so in fact they do not know how great a mature Burgundy can be – let alone how it could and should taste.
This is a complex problem, and while it can appear arrogant to address this – I do feel the need for this, as more and more wines seems to be consumed within the first five years on bottle.
The restaurant fashion industry
When I was young … many or at least a fair share of the restaurants were in business for decades and decades .. thus having the possibility to build a cellar over decades .. hence also having the possibility to serve mature wines from the cellar.
Today most restaurants are only in business for a short time – with little or no possibility to build a cellar with many vintages – they are forced to sell the recent vintages – as this is what they have. I know fashion change in the restaurant business … and the consumers want new flawours and ambiences.
Another effect is that you rarely see old sommeliers in the business anymore … I mean .. people with a actual memory of older vintages, old wines, a feel for the maturing of wines in the cellar and the eventual decline of some wines.
This process is partly due to the other main tendency causing the problem!
The excess demand for great Burgundies
When I was young … even Domaine de la Romanée-Conti struggled to sell the wines in all vintages – sounds crazy – but this was nevertheless the case. Many producers did in fact have older vintages in the cellar to sell, thus being able to supply restaurants with wines with at least a little bottle age.
The restaurants were able to get larger quantities thus being able to store some of the wines – only selling a part of the latest vintage and also offering a list of maturing or matured wines.
Today they can only get a limited amount of the latest vintage .. the list is ripped as soon as the great wines are offered to the customers.
It’s also too expensive for many restaurants to store large quantities of these wines, and even if they wanted to .. they can’t get the sufficient number of bottles to meet the demand – and save some bottles for maturing.
The consequences are frightening – the Burgundian wine culture at risk!
When I was young .. old Burgundies were if not plentiful and cheap .. they were possible to both find, buy and pay for. I have tasted quite a few .. or some would even say many old and fully mature wines – and I know how the are supposed to taste if in good condition.
Now even top sommeliers outside the largest cities and the finest restaurant of the world have not tasted many fully mature Burgundies, and struggle to have the sufficient knowledge about old and mature Burgundies – as they are almost never served and very rare to even get.
Even very experienced sommeliers apparently get insecure when they serve old wines to unknown customers .. will the customer understand and appreciate te wine?
To exemplify I ordered a Volnay Santenots 1980 at a three star Michelin restaurant back in 2015 … the Sommelier who is very competent apparently felt the need or urge to warn me that the wine is old and not so powerful ..
In fact this was a perfectly mature wine – with a very fine intensity and weight that developed even more complexity over the next three hours after being served.
Perhaps it was fine to give me this warning? … perhaps he has experienced many costumers, who with the lack of experience with mature wines – simply have dismissed these wines as flawed?
For me this is a strong warning light … something is really wrong in the culture of consuming and enjoying Burgundies.
When I was young – and Burgundies old!
Sadly I’m not young any more … and one can not turn back time .. but Fredérick Mugnier has done an attempt by keeping his Musigny in the cellar for some years .. before releasing it.
It’s worth a try .. but it will take a whole lot more to turn the tendencies described above … and to teach the consumers the delicate fruits of patience.