I RECEIVED an email this week from Hamilton Russell Vineyards in South Africa. It told the story of a recent tasting of 31 vintages of their chardonnay, from 1982 t0 2012. The aim was to get an idea of how capable the wine is of medium to long-term aging and to provide some guidance for those who have been buying and cellaring the wine over many vintages.
What particularly caught my eye was owner Anthony Hamilton Russell’s comment about the difficulty of judging the condition of older wine – particularly older white wine. “One person’s deep-colored, rich, nutty, treasure is another’s tired, oxidized, lost opportunity,” is how he expressed the problem.
This struck a chord since it touches on the provocative question of how ideas mediate our perception and appreciation of wine; and in particular how some very similar effects can in one instance be perceived as positive and desirable and in another faulty and undesirable.
In this instance, I’m thinking about the effects produced in white wines by intentionally oxidative vinification — represented by what we’ve come to call orange wines — and like results derived from long-aging whether in bottle, barrel, or some combination of both. I’ll refer to the latter as “off-white wine,” and for convenience sake lump orange and off-white together under the rubric “un-white wine.” [Read more…]