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It was Christmas Eve and the last two boys were home from college so a celebration was in order. What better way than to break out a crusty old bottle of claret? And slip in a little cultural education at the same time. The cork was moist, the first smells musty and ripe, the color a bit on the brick side, the flavors a mass of mushrooms over a delicate old raisin, the reaction...less than enthusiastic. Strange that, as I was so enamored by this ripe old '78. Undaunted I pulled a killer classified growth from the mid-eighties. Same reaction. This wasn't going the way I had hoped.

"Thanks dad, I really appreciate tasting your old wines, but they just taste so dried out and dull," said Mr. MIT. The boy had been away from home for two years and he had forgotten all I had hoped to instill in him about French wines.

There was now a couple of hundred dollars slumped flaccid on the table and I had a strong suspicion that the Merlot factor was ruining my efforts. Wrong again.

"I hate boring Merlots," said LehighU, "I just like a little more fruit taste and less bitterness. But it's O.K., I can drink it."

Heck, to me the joy of sharing wine is that it's pleasing to the customer. Not just O.K. So I humped back down the creaky cellar steps in search of the perfect Bordeaux. Got side tracked by the rack of young California Cabs and thought better. "How's about this '96 Phelps?" Bingo.

Bingo. My observation is that the world no longer turns on ripe old musty wines. For one thing they now cost too much. Perhaps as a result, the flavors are unfamiliar. For another thing, old flavors may be intellectually stimulating, but they simply are not delicious. And I admit I've caught the same disease. I've been Parkerized. As my cellar of old wines becomes depleted and their appearance on the table becomes less frequent (and more painful!), I am joining the ranks of today's wine drinkers who love the fruit of youth.

And as a winemaker it is showing in the wines I make. If you have noticed a slight shift in style of wine around Chaddsford Winery, you are perceptive. I'm letting the grapes ripen on the vine longer to bring out the fruit and reduce the bitter tannins. I use more new oak to show the "sweet" vanillans and fine more frequently with egg whites to soften the harsh tannins and show more of the delicious natural fruit. So far I've seen no reduction in ageworthiness of these wines. Only a more accessible youth packed with forward "innocent" fruit and delicious flavors.

Learning is a slow and innocent process.


 

Eric Miller,
Winemaker