I did a favor for a friend in the wine business, and he thanked me with a bottle of 1988 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas, a quality label from the southern Rhone.
I don't get a chance to drink aged wines often. For one thing, my cellar is only 15 years old, and most of the wines in it are even younger than that. When I started, I didn't buy enough wine that needed to age. For another, the demands of the business call for writing about wines that are readily available, and aged wines aren't. There were only a couple of places in the U.S. that still had a bottle of this wine for sale, for example.
But when I do get a chance, I savor it. Aged wine (and this assumes that it has been stored correctly) is a treat, a chance to taste something that is not only unique, but an adventure. Wine makers have an idea about what will happen when they make something to last for 20 or 30 years, but it's only an idea.
So how was the Cayron?
Pretty good, which almost goes without saying. Cayron wines usually age well, and can be put down for 10, 20 and even 30 years. What was more interesting is what the wine tasted like, which was completely different from what I expected.
Gigondas is a region in the southern Rhone where the wines are blended from grenache, syrah, and mouvedre. The mix is usually two-thirds or more of the first, with the latter two splitting the difference. This yields a fruity, intense wine with dark berry flavors, mostly courtesy of the grenache. If anything, the syrah is used to tone down the wine's fruitiness.
So what did I taste when I poured the first glass? The deep, dark, rich plummy flavors of the syrah (and, to a lesser extent, the mouvedre). The bright fruit was gone, and if I had not known that grenache was in the blend, I never would have known.
Yes, I expected the fruit to become more subtle with age, but not like this. It was almost a completely different wine than what I assume it had been on release in 1991.
Was I disappointed by this? Not in the least. As noted, the joy of aged wine is this kind of discovery. It's also the appreciation of the wine maker's art, for this kind of success is still as much art as science.
And it's also a testament to the French style of wine making, which takes a lot of abuse in our modern world. This wine, though 20 years old, still had plenty of tannins and acid left, and it could probably age a little more -- though it was certainly ready to drink. This is wine making of the highest order, and yet another example of why al those young, over-the-top Australian shirazes rarely impress me.