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10.29.2006

It's Like the Original Wine But Better

Thanks to a tip from Mark, one of my readers who is obviously more caught up on his wine blog reading than I, I'd like to point you to a very interesting post by Tyler over at Dr. Vino about his somewhat startling encounter with Franz Leth, a winemaker in Austria and his tendency to open up older library bottles of his white wines (Pinot Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, etc.) and if they are still good, recork them and sell them. Not typical for Austrian white wine, but certainly not an unheard of practice in the wine world, where old Bordeaux wines are regularly recorked for longer term storage.

The startling point comes with the fact that in addition to recorking these old bottles, the winemaker adds some wine from the current vintage to top up the bottles before he recorks them!

So try a bottle of 1983 Franz Leth Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) like Tyler did, and you're getting a lot of 1983 and a little of 2003 (or some other current vintage) mixed together. No note on the dusty bottle, no reclassification of the year, only the new cork to show that something has been done.

This is a singularly odd practice that has me scratching my head. I find it hard to believe that this is even legal according to the appellation practices in Austria.

Of course, the winemaker is free to do whatever he wants, especially if he thinks it is improving the product he provides to his customers. But there's just something.....wrong with buying a 20-year-old Riesling only to find that it doesn't taste anything like the flavors you buy a 20-year-old Riesling to taste anyway.

Anyhow, it's worth a jump over to Dr. Vino for a looksee and to read the discussion that has ensued.

As for me, I think I will always prefer my old wines in all their unadulterated glory (or lackluster), at least that way I know honestly how they taste.

Comments (7)

edward wrote:
10.30.06 at 1:17 AM

Adler,

This is along the lines of what Penfolds does at their Rewards of Patience workshops.

You can bring along you >15 year old Penfolds wines (even the cheap stuff) but usually Grange.

The winemaker and team will open the wine and taste and then top up with the current release of Grange (if that is what you bought along). If the wine is in good condition - it is recorked and the bottle is labels and certified - essentially it is a good example and not past it or tainted.

It is a good way to check out your bottles.

But as you say - your original wine - is not quite the same.

Steve wrote:
10.30.06 at 2:20 AM

Hi Alder,
It's not mentioned in the article, but Lett is in Austria, not Germany, where they have been know to add a thing or two to their wines! The Glycerol scandals of the 1980's changed the country for the better as the low quality producers were all forced out of business.

I agree that it's a weird thing to do but it seems to make more sense coming directly from the winemaker. It could almost be considered just another step in the elevage of these wines. The five percent or so of young wine will slightly distort the balance back to primary (fruit) and secondary (fermentation) flavors away from tertiary (aging) flavors. If there's no basis for comparision, I would imagine the results to be fairly agreeable.

But the practice of topping up old classic wines doesn't seem right. There will be real variations between bottles. It's also not going to bring a bad bottle back to life. Might as well just find out when you're serving it.

Rewards of Patience seems a funny name for the Penfolds top up workshops, especially if you're rewarded with your bottle being poured down the sink!

edward wrote:
10.30.06 at 3:05 AM

Sorry about all my typos in my initial responce, also did not realise that Salil spoke about the Penfolds clinic over at Dr Vino.

Steve - the wines that don't make the grade - are returned to the owner - and not given a passing tick/seal/signature. The owner can then take the dud wine home and do what his or her conscience allows (if he is a bastard - sell at auction to some unsuspecting buyer, or if he is honest - tip down the sink).

If you buy wines at Auction in Australia - they will often mention if the wine has been through a clinic and been given a pass.

I think it is a nice touch from Penfolds to offer this - for free - to all owners of old Penfolds wine.

Personally I would prefer to keep my bottles and open them and drink them when I am ready - in their original 'unadulterated' form

Craig Camp wrote:
10.30.06 at 9:20 AM

It's hard to believe that the tiny amount of wine needed to top off the bottle could change the wine significantly. Also we should remember that most red wines that receive significant barrel age are also commonly topped up with wines from more current vintages and in Champagne, older and newer vintages are used in the topping up process after disgorgement. Wine laws always allow for a small percentage of wine from a different vintage to be included due the the realities of the winemaking process.

Alder wrote:
10.30.06 at 9:30 AM

Craig,

One thing that it certainly would do in my opinion (and Tyler's post seems to ratify this) is change the aromas of the wine significantly. And since most nearly everything we taste is mostly aroma anyway....

Your points about champagne are well taken, but that's a slightly different thing, in my opinion at least. The dosage, according to my understanding, happens after a couple of years of the aging process (as do other topping ups in barrels, etc.). The difference in age between the two wines is not so huge when this happens, and the wine used is often mixed with sugar -- it's effects on the champagne's taste is significant, but part of the effect they are going for, after all.

Very different to add 2 year old wine to 20 year old wine, especially when you're not consciously creating a solera-style blend.

But that's just my POV.

Craig Camp wrote:
10.30.06 at 9:44 AM

To top up a bottle of wine stored in his cellar under prime conditions would probably only require a few milliliters of new wine. This would not have much impact on the wine. Unless we get a better idea of how much wine he adds it's difficult to comment on the changes we would see in the wine.

carlos Serafim wrote:
11.05.06 at 5:39 PM

I find it hard to believe that a 20 year old bottle of wine would need to be topped off at all. Where is he storing the wine? in his attic? This guy needs to switch to screwcap. The odd part is that he tops off with new wine. Why not just open an old bottle and use that? Then at least he can say the wine isn't adulterated. The line that intrigues me is 'if they are still good, he tops them off'. He should know better than anyone else how his wines age and when he should have sold them.

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