Wine, like many of us, goes through a dumb phase – but what does that mean? Let me just start by saying ‘Don’t worry.’ Don’t let the words ‘dumb phase’ curtail your purchasing or your enjoyment of wine. It’s all part of the game. Much of the problem lies in the fact that those two words are somewhat vague and ill-defined and that they represent something that isn’t fully understood and is, even in this scientific age, inaccurate.
We’ll begin with something we do know – that from the moment fermentation ceases wine is constantly changing. This is why we think of wine as a natural, living thing. Like us, it is always in a state of fluctuation, it is always aging and going through stages. What we refer to as the ‘dumb phase’ indicates a period in the wine’s development when it seems to close down. It is not bad wine, it is not wine that is past its peak and is about to die, it simply loses its initial heady aromas and becomes temporarily uninteresting. When this dumb phase begins varies greatly, and how long it will last is also impossible to predict.
The point should be made that when we are talking about a dumb phase we are applying it to wines that are age-worthy, or cellar-worthy, and are therefore (usually) expensive. It does not apply in any noticeable way to wines that are ready to drink right away. Nor does it apply (though it is sometimes used) to wines suffering from bottle shock. Bottle shock refers to a very short, temporary period of time when the tannins in a bottle of wine go through trauma while being knocked about on the bottling line or during transportation. The dumb phase has to do with a great wine getting past its first plateau of promising youth and moving on to its second plateau of wise and complex maturity. The dumb phase has to do with quirky introverted adolescence. It is an unhappy and inapt phase, as well as a trifle insulting. Much better is the term used in Bordeaux – ‘age ingrat’ which means ‘difficult age.’
So in the evolutionary travels of a fine wine from having pleasant young aromas to having a magnificent and complex bouquet it is better to accept this mysterious period of age ingrat than to let it cause us too much worry and doubt. As stated earlier it is all part of the game, and with patience and caring a difficult adolescence will transform itself into a truly wise and beautiful maturity. Just like in life.
Bill Stobbs, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
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