Wine in Time discussion panel
To launch its new program called Wine in Time--an attempt to bring mature wines to its customers, Oliveto restaurant in Rockridge hosted a few public discussions about wine with some noted winemakers. Topics ranged from "what is a wine of place?" to "why do some wines age and some do not?" The discussion I attended last weekend included Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Roberto Stucchi of the famed Tuscan estate Badia a Coltibuono, with the talk being monitored by Bob Klein Oliveto's owner. Lots of interesting topics came up before the audience of about 40-50, and we tasted some nice wines.
Well-made wines change over time. If they grow old well, lots of good things can happen--tannins soften or drop out, flavors harmonize, complexity grows and grows. A great wine, well aged, is one of the most pleasurable things in the world. But the tradition of wine aging, once prominent, is being lost to the general public. Wines are being made not to last, but to drink within the first few years following release. Most restaurants prefer this, actually, because few have the capacity to buy wines and then store them for years or decades to offer to their customers. Instead, mature wines on restaurant lists are usually picked up at auction or from collectors with the price to the end buyer being very steep.
Oliveto's new program is exciting because of its pledge to have older wines available on the wine list at a (more) reasonable price (than most restaurants--it still ties up a lot of money to buy wine and age it). Klein also promises to have a couple of options by the glass. And in a highly unusual move for a restaurant, Oliveto purchased off-site cellar space to age its wines and brokered deals with several top Italian wineries to buy wine at prices slightly lower than the initial offer. The intent is that after 5-10 years of aging, these wines will go on Oliveto's list at prices more reachable by most American wage earners. With the opportunity to purchase wines at low prices, though, Oliveto had to give these wineries the pledge of faith: we will buy your wines in quantity every year, no matter what the quality of the vintage. It's a great, great thing--as loyalty to good producers year-in and year-out is an underrated quality in this scattered wine market.
And for the customer, the chance to taste wine properly matured is a golden chance to enhance one's enjoyment and understanding of wine.