In the past, I've had Barolo Riservas from the Piedmont region of Italy that were in their prime at 22 years of age. Last night we had a bottle of 1996 Vigneto Arborina from Elio Altare that was in it's prime at a little more than ten years old. What a wine! Big, brawny and buff with lots of backbone and muscle, but not in your face. Complex flavors matched by balancing acid and tannin made this the perfect match for Piedmontese Lamb Shanks and Cannellini Beans in a Red Wine Sauce. This wine was at it's peak!
The 1990 Barolo from Bruno Giacosa was like an elderly gentleman. Mahogany colored, it was very much like an old tawny Port without the sweetness, of course. This was truly an old wine with smooth vanilla and nut flavors conducive to contemplation. It went great with the cheese course.
On a different night we had a 1995 Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Hauts Pruliers Vieilles Vignes Riserve from Chevigny. In the past Red Burgundies routinely aged for ten to twenty years. Recently, I've felt that most Burgundy must be drunk by six years of age and were at their best at four years. Not this beauty! At eleven or twelve years, it is still going strong! Big and muscular in the way that Nuits-Saint-Georges can be, this wine was medium to full bodied with a deep red color and a rose edge. A nose of exotic spice and perfume leads to full raspberry flavors balanced by a fair amount of acid and tannin. One might think that the tannin would fade away with more ageing, but in my experience the fruit fades away before the tannin and acid, frequently leaving something that tastes like a blend of tart sherry vinegar and sandpaper. This is one of those wines that every Pinot lover spends years searching for. Miles might even crack a smile!
So now a ten year old wine is at it's peak and a seventeen year old is old. Ah, well! At least you don't have to wait so long. But be careful that old friends don't turn out to be tart and rough, without anymore endearing qualities.