Aged Burgundy = Good. Has it always been so?

Burgundy has the oddest aging ‘yumminess curve’ - often delicious in youth, then a long mute period, finally opening at 15-30 years into new/different tastiness.

I’m wondering if this is a newly discovered phenomenon, or something that was understood and appreciated in the past. Do any of our older wine lovers remember back to, say, the 70s? Was GC Burg understood in the same way then? Eg … Was it all about 40s/50s and older Burgs then?

What if we go further back? Any wine historians who have perspective on the pre-WWII world’s understanding of aged wine? As we go this far back refrigeration becomes a pretty big issue - very limited availability before WWII and nonexistent much before that.

As much as we love it now, I’m really wondering if this is very much a creation of modernity. And btw of course I’m aware that aged = good extends beyond Burgundy. I’ve had far more good aged Bordeaux, for example.

When I became aware of wine in the early 1970s, sitting at tables with my dad & uncles entertaining buyers during Manhattan fashion weeks, what I saw consumed was Bordeaux from the 60s and Barolo and Chianti from the 50s.


I think recommended cellaring times have increased a lot; I bought two '91 Leroy 1er Crus on release and the retailer suggested waiting another 5-8 years before opening them. Now, just about every tasting note for all sorts of wines, of whatever age, notes “needs another 5-10 years.”

remember that less than 1% of wines are cellared; most are bought and quickly consumed. Broadbent and other critics from the 20th century often trumpeted the taste of aged wines. I don’t think it is anything new.

In the wonderful book Wine and War about what happened to the wine world in France during WWII the authors note that, when the Germans rolled into Paris in 1940, the restaurants were serving wines from the 20’s and even older in many cases.

I believe that ‘modern’ critics started waxing on about Burgundy vintages in the 1860s and 1870s. The British were more than likely the first to cellar the wines long term, and it was the British scribes that wrote about their otherwordly charms when properly aged.

I’ve had two wines from the 1876 vintage (both white) in the late 1980s that were still full of life - but it’s very hard to find any information on the pre-1900 vintages in Burgundy.

Michael Broadbent is of course the best source for those old notes - but it seems like around World War One that things got serious about vintages like 1915, 1918 and 1919. All great vintages with some wines that are still alive and drinking well today.

Would love to find some old Burgundy writings of the 17th and early 18th centuries.

I would have to say the greatest red Burgundies I have ever tasted were from the late 1940s, early 50s when at 40-50 years of age were still showing primary fruit -

Look at “Notes on a Cellarbook” by George Saintsbury for advice on cellaring wines from nearly a hundred years ago…

One of the first wine books I every purchased - have to look at the publishing date - I think mine is from the early 50s -

Wasn’t it Santsbury who coined the phrase - “Good Burgundy should smell like shit…”?


The Burg = dung bit was from Anthony Hansen…

The best part of that book was him tracing the journey of some wine in a tanker truck from the Midi through a circuitous paper trail that ended with it being legally (well almost) sold as Nuit St. George or Pommard. That chapter was called “Magic Hands”…


Before, say 1985’s RB vintage, people thought fecal/barnyard aromatics were a purposeful part of RB’s charm and essential character. (During a visit to Piemonte in 2004 a couple of winemakers there even posited which animal was the source, such was the cliche.)

Then, when modern hygenics took over those elements disappeared from good wines. And, no on has tried to get them back.

I think the fuss about aging RB was renewed from that era: 1985 vintage and later. “Aged” Burgundy has always been of interest, and when visiting an estate there that wanted to be really hosptiable, they would frequently open a bottle of 25-30 years old for me an my wife…and then offer it to us to take with us. But, I think the idea that it could be more than a curiosity with lots of age and morph into a beautiful, sensual experience became more prevalent in the '80s, when hygeine began to reign.

My first Burgundy epiphanies were 66 and 69 Faiveleys (I don’t remember the appellations, but PC or GC) in 1983. I can still recall the frambroise, the silk and elegance.

When I worked in the cellar at Antoines in the early 80’s the crown jewels were from the 50’s & 60’s and we were still cellaring most of the amazing 71’s.

Whoah! Roberto’s back! Welcome back Roberto! [cheers.gif]

Aging wine does not go back forever I believe. I think it only goes back to the use of bottles and corks. But, I think people have been aging wine for at least a couple of hundred years or more. I have heard that the French made wine in the 1930s-1970s or so to age a long time because it was not always selling that well - gave them longer to sell it.

I have started reading this book, in which the author translates pieces of many of the great old books of Burgundy - Lavalle, etc. I just started it so I don’t know how much they go into agability. So far, what I have read indicates very short aging times. Heard about this book from (Episode 270)

What % of wines do you think are truly age worthy as well? Not trying to be rhetorical but being serious. I’m sure less than 10% or 5% of wines are. Maybe 1% to 2%?

The most expensive wine one could find in ancient rome was a late harvest wine that aged for years before being served so the concept of aging in literally ancient. That said, wine was mostly consumed within a year of harvest due to spoilage issues despite this type of exception.

Aging of wine as we know it today didn’t really take off until strong glass bottles and corks became widely used and it was the british who really developed a taste for aged wine during the 19th century.

In the historical sources I am aware of I don’t remember coming across the idea of a “dumb period”. It was mostly discussion of how long wines in bottle would last. Generally Chamertin was considered the longest living of the Burgundies.

Thanks, this is interesting! I’m reading the first chapter now, as the link you provided has free access to that chapter. A few pages in, he’s talking about an 1869 Richebourg and says, “this wine was not more than nine years’ old when I bought it; but Burgundy is quick in maturing.” He then moves on to describe an 1846 Hermitage that he drank through a case and a half of, drinking the last bottle with 40 years on it; good stuff!

Maybe a little OT, but wine aging was well known even in Roman times. Pliny the elder talks about the Opimian vintage that was drinkable more than one hundred years after, and says, talking about wine, that “Indeed, there is no one thing, the value of which more sensibly increases up to the twentieth year, or which decreases with greater rapidity after that period, supposing that the value of it is not by that time greatly enhanced.14 Very rarely, indeed, up to the present day, has it been known for a single15 piece of wine to cost a thousand sesterces, except, indeed, when such a sum may have been paid in a fit of extravagance and debauchery”.
On the other hand if one reads the few books about wine before 1700 published in Italy, it seems clear that aging wines was not a standard practice, that developped only during 1800. At the end of that century aging wines was even in Italy a standard practice. I think in France everything was anticipated of 100 years.