Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Joy of Aging

Wines, that is. We live in an age of instant gratification, and there are so many wines out there that are so fantastic when young that it's awfully hard to wait on them. But this weekend proved what a memorable experience awaits when you age the right wine.

Some friends served up a terrific beef entre that required some special full-bodied wines for companionship. Both wines served were kick-ass good, but the real star turned out to be the oldest -- hope for those of us approaching 50?.

My wife and I brought the first wine served, a marvelous '97 Tenuta Friggiali Brunello di Montalcino. Since the '97 vintage was an exceptional one, these brunellos have a lot of aging left in them. But they're tasting pretty darn good right now. The Friggiali showed rich aromas of leather and earth on top of black fruit and anise.

Made from sangiovese grosso, brunello, as far as I'm concerned, is the true "super" Tuscan. A big wine that comes by its complexity and brawn honestly -- no cabernet needed here. Its chewiness was just perfect with the Italian beef dish.

Next, we poured (we really should have had a drumroll for this one) an '85 Opus One. This was really an exciting moment. If you're not familiar with Opus One, it is one of the truly elite Napa Valley cabs (primarily) commanding well over $100 a bottle. Opus was born in 1979 as the result of a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and the Baron Philippe de Rothschild. It's been netting great reviews ever since.

I've tasted Opus One twice before at special tasting events, but in both cases the wine was young. I had never tasted a properly aged Opus One, and certainly never with the chance to linger over the wine in such a comfortable setting. It did not disappoint.

At first it was lovely but restrained, with flavors of cassis and cedar showing nicely. It was extremely silky on the palate, which made it very difficult not to gulp it down deliriously. But Tom, who brought the wine from his cellar, was on guard and cautioned to me to wait a bit before trying it again.

The experience was amazing. Within 15 minutes or so, it began to show more complexity. Now I was taking in aromas of earth, leather, cocoa and even a bit of smokiness. 10 or 15 minutes later I picked up a bit of coffee grounds, a trademark of many Pauillac wines, though this is strictly a Napa product. It was an absolute joy to mark the wine's stunning complexity, fully revealed only with the help of patience and regular attention.

The Opus was so smoothly textured and devoid of any rough edges, we all agreed it's either at peak or just starting its downward trek from the summit of greatness. But if true, it should be a long, slow descent. This wine still has lots going for it.

The real joy of the evening was getting to enjoy what aging can do for a wine with great potential. The Opus was so rich and smooth, it should come with a special sin tax. May we all age so well.


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