Friday Tasting: Ye Aulde Vines

One of the most sacred things in the world of wine is ‘Vielles Vignes’. This French expression literally means old vines. Most of the winemakers say that old wines give richer fruit. Are wines made from old vines really better or is this another marketing pitch?

When I see ‘Vielles Vignes’ written on the label I prepare myself for something special. It is becoming a rare commodity, this older lady. As we live in a world of mass production, large volume modern winemaking this quality of fruit is being replaced by harder working vines, and we are sacrificing such beautiful potential in the process.

The first company to use the term “Vielles Vignes” was Bollinger in Champagne. They had an old vineyard, that miraculously survived the phyloxera’s devastation. Back then that is what ‘Vielles Vignes’ referred to. Pretty much most of Europe’s vineyards had been wiped out, so the existence of old vines was something quite unique and to be revered.

So how old is old? Surprisingly, in a hugely rigid and regulated industry, there is no regulation. So it’s basically up to the winemakers honesty. In general we could say, ‘Vielles Vignes’ are the vines significantly older than the other plantations, but then this is only our distinction, not theirs.

For understanding why this distinction of age is worth crediting, we have to take a closer look at the life cycle of the grapevine. A young vine starts to produce fruit after 2-3 years. You press the “virgin vintage” from the first crop. But this junior fruit is far from the concentrated fruit every winemaker is looking for. It will take years until this vine produces the quality of fruit that is desired – with increased flavour, more aromas, higher levels of sugar  and greater antioxidants.

From older vines, better grapes grow. But with better grapes you get smaller yields. Normally the old wines are replaced with potentially higher yielding young vines as the volumes decline, applying straightforward economy. But some winemakers, either through their ability to sacrifice land or for aspirations of quality, allow the old vines to remain. And then we get to benefit in the joys..

We are going to taste two fantastic ‘Vielles Vignes’ this weekend at Borough Market: a Syrah based blend from Chateau Grezan in the Languedoc, and an elegant Burgundy White from Mariller Pére et Fils.

Please come and join us.

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