Before It’s Time and Champers
Is it really wrong to drink a wine before its time?
I really hope you’re paraphrasing Orson Welles’ line from those cheesy Paul Masson commercials from the 1970s — I really, really do. For those of you too young to remember, back in the day, Mr Citizen Kane — in all his hugeness — hammed his way through a series of adverts for Masson’s California winery which (according to Welles) would never sell a wine before its time. (Check out the ads on YouTube: Orson looks half in the bag.)
At the time Masson was king of the US jug-wine industry, so I’m betting that any time was the right time for him to let loose his juice. Drinking a wine before its “time” is another matter altogether.
What you’ve got to realize is that most wines you see on your local liquor-store shelves are designed to be drunk pretty early. Winemakers know that, like me, most of you can’t wait to wrap your lips around a glass, so most purchased wine of late barely makes it past the 24-hour mark before the cap is cracked or cork is pulled.
So while the time is now for just about everything you’re tossing into your day-to-day shopping basket, price does have a habit of being the great equalizer.
I could go on forever about why wines cost what they do (and will a bit more in the next question), but the long and short of it is that expensive wines are either rare, hard to make, famous enough to ask the big bucks or a combination of all three.
As a general rule you pay for longevity so, yes, while you could guzzle anything at any time, I say it’s wrong to crack open a wine you’ve melted your credit card purchasing before it’s had time to age its way to drinkability. (One caveat to my theory would be an older, matured wine you’ve shelled out mucho dinero for. Those you should pour ASAP).
What you lose when you open a wine that’s far too young is the nuance that time in the bottle brings. You’re never going to get your money’s worth from a powerhouse wine from a recent vintage if you suck it right away. Sure, you can decant it, shake it up, try and force some age on it. In the end you’re drinking a pale comparison to what some hibernation will add to the wine.
That said, if you’ve got some 21st-century First-Growth Bordeaux burning a hole in your cellar, just drop me an email, I’ll be happy to help you waste your dough …
What makes Champagne more expensive than a sparkling wine?
I love it when two questions come together, especially when a lot of the last one is in play when it comes to all that sparkles. One thing you have to know is that while all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne.
The small French region of Champagne — about an hour north of Paris — just happens to be famous for making the world’s best bubbly. That doesn’t mean you can’t get your effervescence on elsewhere; it’s just that it’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg.
Back to the last question: who you are, where you are and what you’re made from is a Champagne specialty. While the region has pumped out liquid gold for centuries (and you tend to get famous for something you’ve been good at for a long time), fermented facsimiles made in a similar manner are available from just about any country that makes wine.
They’re cheaper because, well, they’re not from Champagne.
Countries like Spain, Chile and the USA — who typically use the traditional Champagne method of production that sees a second fermentation occurring in the bottle — don’t have as many rules to make wine by as the French, so they can create more juice, which translates to a less-expensive (and usually very tasty) wine.
If you’ve got Champagne taste and a wallet to match, never hesitate drinking a big gun from France. If you’re budget is a tad more conservative, your average under-$20 international sparkler is more than adequate. Really cheap sparkling wines have their bubbles infused into them like a soft drink does and should be avoided at any cost.