Reader’s mail (3)



The time has come for another rendez-vous with my readers, with their questions and inquisitions about wine at large. I draw a few letters out of my mailbag, and I try as best I can to answer all your interrogations about the world of wine. it’s always a pleasure to exchange with you on wine, so don’t hesitate to send me your questions via the contact page, which you will find in the menu to the left of this article.

This week, We’ll wonder what a “modern” wine is; someone also asked me a question on the correlation between vintage and price: why isn’t an older wine necessarily more expensive than a newer one?

Finally, we will look for a wine that can age over a very specific amount of time…

Let’s jump right into it, shall we?


Herman, from La Sarre, writes:

As the treasurer of La Sarre’s Pretty Big Bottles Club, I am in charge of making purchases for tastings. we follow simple themes, but we also love recommendations from SAQ employees. Unmistakably, When I approach an employee about a certain wine, he says it is likely too “modern” for my palate. Is it my fortrel suit or my tastevin’s tanning mark on my chest that betrays my taste for all things classical? I am not sure, but I digress. My question is: what the heck is a modern wine?


Dear Herman, don’t let SAQ employees comment on your clothes or your tan, that’s SO 1970. The times, they are a-changing, and so do opinions and tastes. In fact, if you want to have fun at the expense of SAQ employees, browse the Internet to find the uniforms they had to wear in the past… But let’s get back to your question: what is a modern wine? this idea found its place in wine jargon with the advent of New World wines, in other words countries that have at best one or two centuries of winemaking tradition.

For the sake of the explanation, let’s make a generalization: in the Old World, respect of tradition and terroir, of the “Grace of God” concept in viticultural practices leads to wines that are representative not only of their grape variety, but also of their place and the time at which they were made (I will elaborate on vintage variation in the next reader’s question). Countries that have ante’ed up much later, bot having to respect this long tradition, were more inclined to give in to enological practices, so as to make more expressive wines, almost free of all geological, or vintage-related influence. Two countries had a very important role to play in wine’s modern times: New Zealand, for developing stainless steel vinification, And Australia for just about everything else.

Modern wines, because they are submitted to practices that were not, up to a certain recent time, used in Old World countries, set themselves apart thanks to extraction, concentration anddensity. Much more cheeky, often with sculpted tannins in the case of reds, with intense fruit often autographed by well-toasted new oak, modern wines hardly express anything but their grape variety, which does not keep them from being well made or even pleasant to drink, especially with a meal. Being more incognito in the New World portfolio, they look like the elephant in the room in Old World countries; Bordeaux has its share of modern, enologically revisited wines. Try them on, one of these days, to see if you like them; but make sure not to spill any on your nice fortrel suit; just wear a nice Italian one instead.

Benoît,  from Outremont, writes (once more…):

Hello Somm’Fou! It’s me again, surely I must be acquiring a taste for giving you credibility!

I am once again gathering chosen friends this week and I wanted to make a comparative tasting of different vintages of a certain wine. But the wine I chose has a vintage 2012 that’s more expensive than the 2011… What is up with that? Surely it must be better, right? Shouldn’t it be the other way around, knowing the older one has matured over time? What commercial shenanigan have I gotten myself into?

Thanks for encouraging small producers, Benoît, much appreciated. In fact, you should not draw quick conclusions when it comes to wine prices and the relative quality of different vintages of a wine. Many factors can explain that a more recent vintage is more expensive than an older vintage. First, as you may have guessed, it may just be that this wine is better because the grapes of that vintage were favoured by the elements: they were able to reach optimum ripeness, offering a good base for the elaboration of a fine wine. So, the producer may ask a premium based on the quality of the wine, and this premium will show on the price the consumer will pay.

But it could also be that the price is higher for the opposite reason: a tough vintage, marked by weather episodes that ravaged the harvest, could be sold at a higher price to compensate for financial losses incurred because of weather’s changing mood. However, the grapes harvested will still have to be of superior quality and healthy enough to provide a very good wine. Finally, this wine could compelling for a different set of reasons, either because it obtained, thanks to the previous vintages, high scores and praises from critics, or because it’s the last vintage of a certain cuvée, or it’s an anniversary cuvée, or the last one made by a deceased vigneron. In short, it does not mean that this vintage is better than the other, but it could be.


Elspeth, from Joliette, writes:

Greetings, Somm’Fou, I have been in an adoption process for a year now. I am on a list to expect a little toddler, and I am told the wait could be up to four years. So my child to come may not even be born yet. This being said, I’d like to buy a bottle vintaged on his/her birth. If ever he/she was born this year, I would need a bottle that can age for eighteen years… But seeing as he/she could also be four years before it enters life, then I would need a bottle that can age twenty-two years … Are you following me? What do you suggest? Thanks!


First off, Elspeth, sorry about your name; your childhood must not have been easy… But back to your question: I think you should not be so rigorous or precise about it. In fact, maturing windows are rather vague and elastic concepts; what matters is to choose a wine made by a renowned winery, with a grape variety able to withstand eras. Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Syrah, just to name a few, will satisfy your desire for an cellarable wine, whether fir eighteen or twenty-two years. Make sure to buy it from a reputable house, though. SO this way, there are lesser chances of your wine being poopy when you uncork it with your now-adult child.

Finally, it’S not all that important that the wine can age exactly eighteen or twenty-two years: what matters is that you buy the appropriate vintage to mark the birth of your child. Si votre enfant est né en 2014, allez-y pour ce millésime-là. However, keep an eye on vintage charts put together by this world’s great wine publishers, Jancis Robinson, The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator or even one of the many wine guides available on the Quebec market will likely provide you with this information (or not, make sure you buy the right one!). Don’t fuss on the price, eand buy the best possible wine for the occasion, because it is important. Cheers!


Don’t hesitate to drop me a line, by using the contact form in the menu to the left. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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