Old wines are desirable, sophisticated and expensive - that at least is the general perception. Sadly this is usually not true as most wines don't age very well at all - just try the supermarket Chardonnay forgotten for five years in your cupboard to see why. However, and even more sadly perhaps, it tends to be true that desirable and sophisticated aged wines are expensive. Or are they?
How about I tell you that just a few weeks ago I bought the bottle belonging to the cork above for less than ten Euros - about half a Euro per year of age.
I know what you are thinking now: surely there are some dodgy dealings involved, German favouritism perhaps, small, unmarked bottles exchanged on midnight bridges over the Mosel, no questions asked. As much as I'd like that it sadly was much simpler: I ordered a box of aged wines over the internet directly from the producer. For many years now, Mosel winemaker Martin Müllen has always held back a small amount of his production to be able to offer aged wines to his customers. Not all are as cheap as this bottle, but overall they are really not more expensive than what you would pay for a decent bottle of young wines from a respectable producer from the region. That means that, assuming the quality is good and you like aged wines, you are looking at a steal.
Of all the wines I bought from Müllen I was least sure about this one as on paper it would be the least likely candidate to have aged well. The ability of a wine to age depends on several factors: acidity, sugar and alcohol all help preserve it. In general this makes Riesling with its high acidity a good candidate for aging, but in the case of our 1996 we are looking at a wine with both a relatively low alcohol and low levels of residual sugar - the "trocken" on the label means "dry" after all. One could also assume that such a dry wine would not quite have the harmony of a mature, sweeter wine.
However, when I got into the wine there was no sign at all that Müllen's 1996 had not aged well. Take the colour for instance, a clear, lighter gold that was quite appealing. On the nose there was perhaps a faint musty aroma (think old basement seasoned with ground pepper) but it was so well balanced by fruit that it almost acted as a seasoning. A blend of custardy beeswax, a little caramel and citrus-lime-grapefruit freshness soon leaning towards a cool fruity creaminess was quite appealing. Drinking it was pretty much the same experience albeit with the lime notes slightly more prominent and a nice aniseed grapefruit finish. Only when paying careful attention could I pick out a hint of potato peel but for my palate at least that bitterness almost acted as a seasoning. Initially I did think that a little more sweetness and caramel notes would make the wine even better; however, after a few glasses which I downed faster than you can say Hochmoselübergang that idea just seemed silly.
In summary: if you want aged wines ... if no one else can help ... if you can find them ... maybe you can drink... some Müllen.