Friday, July 19, 2013

Wine Libraries (not the Gary Vaynerchuk kind...)

I was going to start this post off by saying all wineries need to have wine libraries. Many of the liquor stores in Denver are in fact libraries of just the type of wines that shouldn't be saved for future consumption. Too often when I've gone into an off-the-beaten path shop I've seen bottles of $5.99 merlot from vintages in the early 1990s just sitting there sullenly on the bottom shelf. Perhaps they'd make decent salad dressing now, but should not still be offered for sale as wine. Despite wines like these that need not be unopened past their third birthday, more wineries ought to keep wine libraries. There are several reasons to do so.

First, saving a few bottles (or cases) of a wine has an important research application for a winery. All too often I see wineries with less than a handful of released vintages claiming their wine will drink well for 20-25 years. This may be the case, but there is no actual evidence that it will be the case. Sure, a winery can't wait 25 years to make the claim that their wines will actually last a generation as a serviceable beverage, but at least tasting a few wines after they've been laid down for a few years will provide some evidence of such claims.

Second, wineries need to document the results of the choices they made between bud break and the time the finished wine is bottled. If the entire production is sold, a winery will have no way of knowing how the acid adjustment or the spinning cones (or the non-interventionist approach) turned out. Holding back a few samples is necessary for finding out how the wine changes with age. Some people call it drinking, but in the wine industry it should be called research and development. Wineries should always try to be improving on their most recent vintage and there might be no better way than drinking their wines when they have aged.

Third, and maybe most important for consumers, library wines means library releases. Reserving more than a few cases allows a winery to re-release wines that may be their customers weren't able to buy on release. Many consumers don't have the patience or the ability to hold on to wines until they're at their peak, so being able to buy directly from the winery a few years down the line has its advantages. Knowing how a wine ages is often a key piece of information consumers use when trying to decide on how much of a currently release to buy. One of a winery's advantages is charging a premium for library wine. As long as a the premium isn't outrageous, it's a win-win situation for the winery and the consumer.

Scherrer "Shale Terrace" Zinfandel, Alexander Valley AVA
Without library releases I wouldn't have had the opportunity to drink the 2005 Scherrer "Shale Terrace" Zinfandel I enjoyed on Independence Day. There is something to said about having perfectly aged wines as your first experience with a winery. I bought a few new releases and a few aged bottles. The Fourth of July seemed like an opportune time to open one of the zinfandels. This wine was not like the zinfandels most consumers are used to. Big, fruity young wines is kind of zinfandel's character in the wine world. The Scherrer was starting to show a brick color and the aromas were more secondary in nature than most zins. The fruit was still there, but extra few years in the bottle (and in the winery's own cellar) allowed the wine to develop more toffee and savory flavors. It was still a big wine, but exceptionally smooth and complex. Complexity is often one of the characteristics critics use when determining quality, and yet somewhat ironically in the world of barrel tasting and futures complexity may take several years in the bottle to reveal itself. So, to wineries, I urge you to keep more of your wines held back. Taste them yourselves and re-release them a few years down the road. Consumers, next time you're at a winery I urge you to ask about their library program. Buy a bottle and experience what a few years of aging can do.

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