On the value of ageing and on value for money: a fine example from Bordeaux

I realize that I have already written about these topics here, but a recent tasting of a single wine from the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation and from my cellar brought them back to mind with force. They are, after all, constant issues in the matter of wine. The bottle that triggered this article is one of Château de Parenchère, cuvée Raphael, from the 2001 vintage. This vintage is no longer commercially available but the 2015 edition can be found for around 13 euros a bottle. In total contast to this, one could mention the rather extreme and, to me, utterly ridiculous case of that wine, also from the Bordeaux region and called Liber Pater, whose owner has managed to sell a few bottles of the first vintages of his wine at the already absurd price of 3,500 euros a bottle! (all prices qouted apply to France). I admit to not having tasted this, but no wine can possibly be worth such a sum anyway, unless of course you have more money than common sense. The owner of this estate, whose weird practices raise more than a few eyebrows and who apparently looks down on all other producers in his region, is now even more proud as he has put his 2015 on the market at the price of 30,000 euros a bottle. Yes, those are 4 zeros! How can an ambition like this, namely to sell your wine for more money than anyone else, interest anyone apart possibly from the Guiness Book of Records?

Now back to the real world. I had a full case of this Château de Parenchère, cuvée Raphael 2001 that had been sitting in my cellar for maybe 15 years and the other day I decided to open the wooden box and bin the bottles. My colleague and stepson, Sébastien Durand-Viel, who works with me, took one and served it blind at a family dinner the other day. I was totally useless at guessing anything except its probable age (I said 15 to 20 years), since I then started fumbling around between Italy, southern Rhône/Provence or even Australia. It is in fact a 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and from the eastern entremity of the Bordeaux region, on the left bank of the Dordogne. But my incapacity at blind tasting is not the point here.

The chateau, in the Entre-deux-Mers region

The wine was simply fabulous! Tannins smoothed out and well entwined with sumptuous but not overpowering fruit showing the refinement of time and strong hints of soft spices and tobacco. The fruit had thus evolved into the tertiary stage,  polished but never heavy. The whole wine was richly aromatic, with great length, perfect balance and lots of character. It was a real treat and I would have guessed that it was from a bottle that could easily be worth well over 50 euros. I have written and spoken before about the remarkable value-for-money provided by the best wines from the ill-considered appellations Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérior. Here was one more example and one that also proved another key point: the remarkable ageing capacity of the best of these wines. This cuvée from Parenchère has figured in past editions of my annual selections from the appellation, but I never imagined that it could age so gracefully and indeed bloom into the substance of glowing beauty that I tasted that evening. We are talking about 18 years for a wine whose retail price is not far above ten euros, and I am not streching a point when I say that the wine was perfect and in no way over-the-top. On opening the wooden case, I noticed a small slip of ocre paper lying there that explained things about the wine in a text signed by Jean Gaziniol, the then owner of this estate. At the end of this text, there was a paragraph entitled AGEING POTENTIEL in which he stated that this wine would be at its best in 2010 and would start to decline from 2015. We are in 2019 and the wine has not yet started to decline, I can assure you!

Another bottle of this particular wine from my cellar

Perhaps a word about this vintage is appropriate here. I have always considered 2001 to be a very good vintage in Bordeaux, and regularly better that the highly rated (perhaps often for symbolic reasons) 2000. It also seemed particularly suitable for ageing, with both freshness and quite a taught tannic structure. This is indeed validated by this wine, and I have others in my cellar from the same vintage which bear out these qualities.

I know by experience that wine ages well in my cellar, and this is of course an essential factor to consider when looking at keeping wine. This is one of the reasons why I always find it hard to advise people about the cellaring capacity of a particular wine, since this will largely depend on the conditions of storage. My cellar is dark (no light bulbs), with high natural humidity (around 70%) from being under-ground with a stone wall that breathes on one side It is a little too warm in the summer  and I need to improve on the insulation on two sides of the wall that I built inside a formar stable to create the cellar. The thermometer rises gradually to 20°C, from a winter low of around 12°C. But this fluctuation is very gradual between winter and summer and does not seem to have an adverse effect on the wines.

Another consideration is of course one’s taste. If you like your tannins to be thick and with plenty of impact, and your fruit flavours very much on the fresh fruit side, then there is not a lot of point in ageing your wines for many years. One can see indeed how many people’s palates have become so used to drinking young wines that they have trouble adjusting to the greater complexity and different flavour patterns of older vintages. But I strongly feel that what makes wine so interesting is its capacity to evolve in time, creating huge diversity in its aromatic and flavour profiles. As this particular example shows also, it is the quality of the fruit and the wine-making that shows through in the long term, and much less the particular geographic origin of even the grape varieties of the wine. This is what so often make older wines much harder to identify than their younger versions in a blind tasting, or am I just finding an excuse for my poor performance in this case?

Whatever the reasons for all of this, one cannot deny the extraordinary value-for-money that this wine represents. 13 euros (in fact less at the time of purchase), for a wine that gives such great pleasure after 18 years, is truly remarkable and puts into perspective so many counter-exemples. I mentioned one such example at the beginning of this article. For most of us, wine is about pleasure, discovering and sharing, and definitely not about how much money a bottle costs. If there are a few super-rich snobs in the world who think otherwise, let them get on with it: there are plenty of excellent wines at very reasoanble prices from so many parts of the world out there to give the rest of us what we are looking for. And try forgetting some bottles in your cellar for ten or twenty years just to see what happens. You need a decent cellar, of course, and you should also be prepared to accept good and also less good surprises. This was a very good one indeed: thank you Parenchère!



4 réflexions sur “On the value of ageing and on value for money: a fine example from Bordeaux

  1. David VZ

    Completely agree, this cuvée is really great value for money. You should also try château de Courteillac.
    Regarding the cellar, you now have very good wine fridges.


  2. Mike Rijken

    Dear David , let me addd this to it

    Copyright Mike Rijken Wine Safari Avignon
    The wine consumption has gone up in the world , but with that also the « speed » of consumption for wines that show the complexity after years. A dangerous development?
    1) the interest about wine is proportional related to 1) the complexity of the wine region,2) production difficulty and 3) the amount of grapes than can be used.
    2) The speed of the wine consumption is proportional coherent related with the intensity that we forget about it.
    3) Patience is a way to preserve history, and avoids we forget about things.
    4)  » Patience has its reasons, but the « reason » does not always no WHY.
    The art of a slow pace. Article from a Swiss Wine Magazine Le Guillon
    Late harvested grapes, late dates of harvesting, longer fermentations, wines bottles we let rest for months or years before selling. Envy for older vintages, do they indicate a tendency in the vineyards of Vaud, Switzerland?
    Here an article, which I found interesting, published in the journal of winemakers in Vaud, Switzerland
    Article done by Alexandre Truffer, translation Mike Rijken.
    “In fact we refuse ourselves the greatest luxury possible: going slow!” This phrase was taken out L’ Usage du Monde, How to use the World, and it concentrates the philosophy of writer Nicolas Bouvier who adds to it;  » A voyage is based on motives. Il will not take long to prove that it exists by itself. We think we go on a voyage but very soon you are lead by itself or yourself. Here is not a reason to compare, but it is not difficult to see a parallel with the proposals of winemaker Christian Dubois in Cully, speaking about his wine called Dézeley-Marsens Vase n° 4 and revealing;  » You need to have confidence in wine. When you have done all the work in the vineyards and everything at the cellar, the wine will find its own way by itself under condition we leave it some time. In his very modern tasting room of the winery, several vintages are for sale of the same wine. For those that are lovers of the white Chasselas grape and older reds, he can go back easily to 40 years.
    The earth, creator of the future
    A wine always tells a story; Young the Chasselas distinguishes itself by being spontaneous. With time it gains maturity. Becoming a gastronomic wine, with complex accents, obtaining it through different stages of development, from the earth to the glass, if the producers have given proof of some patience.  » The making of wine to keep, starts already in the vineyard » confirms Laurent Baechthold of Chateau de Luins. In the 1980’s we believed oenologie could correct all failures, but it is not true ».
    Same sound we hear in the region of Chablais, by the brothers Rapaz, who have restructured the entire winery over the last 25 years.  » When we decided special grapes like Merlot, in 1984, we have done a lot of research, of what is adequate to the grape, soil and exposition. Those difficult studies seem to pay of now in long-term thinking. Selection of vegetal material, density of plantation, type of pruning, age of the vines, influence the quality of the grape but most important is the moment of harvesting. The old theory was, that we wanted to harvest 100 days after the flowering explains Laurent Baechthold. But with this system you have the seeds that are not ripe, and we know now that we have to wait until they get brown for the best phenolic ripeness. At 100 days you must be ready but the final decision is made by observation and tasting.

    Time, secret element of chemistry
    In the cellar, we should lead ourselves by a simple phrase and many professionals share that:
     » A Slow Pace has its reasons, but the reason does not always know why? Yvan Rapaz, leaves some of his wines 4 to 5 years in the cave of an old salt mine in Bex. He notifies differences of evolution of bottles from the same bottling and year in a more classical storage, but cannot explain what the reason is, that it differentiates the wines. Same human and humble notification is made at Cully with Christian Dubois estimating that; » The vintages do not develop in a linear way, but by steps of a stairway. » Predicting destination of a wine is way more subtle than you would think ». « When will be a wine at its best?” Notions of « best » is not the issue, as understanding that « depending on the stage they are in, wines tell different stories. And the client? “When we propose to compare different vintages, most of our clients opted for the older vintages” Today, people are interested in older vintages. “They understand that storage has a price, and that a 2003 Reserve is more in price than a 2009”. « But it is not always the case! » indicates Laurent Baechthold, who enjoys enormously that his years of explications are finally carrying « fruit ». In the area of Bex where the wines for keeping are red, they confirm that opinions are cut up, but the wines that are mature are very much appreciated.
    And non-connoisseurs of wine notify this also. Christian Dubois sees and thinks even that a classical vinification – slow fermentation, 12 months in barrel and two years of rest in a bottle is maybe not favorable for the wine in its youth. A great paradox shows in the fact for the whites of Chasselas done this way and a younger audience/consumer seems to like it. The winemaker at Petit Versailles says:  » I am surprised by the people aged 25-30 years, that they are so interested in wine. They are very curious, on the research of different flavors and accept to pay a bit more for what they instantly fall in love with. It proves, contrary to wine, for the consumer, the value does sometimes do more than the years for the wine.



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