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PREMOX: “WHEREFORE ART THOU?”

John Tilson • 1/30/15        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

POX and Premox

I have been writing about the disturbing trend of White Burgundies to oxidize and turn bad at a very early age for some time. (To read those click on the following articles):
Is One Winedrinker’s Premox Another Wine Drinker’s Botox?
2004 White Burgundies – Premox Or Not? The Beat Goes On!
Get Real – Who’s On First?
This condition of premature aging of White Burgundies is called Premox and began to show up in the mid 1990s. The exact cause has been difficult to pin point, but it may have to do with new techniques employed in making wine to make it more accessible at an early age.  Premox takes a few years to show up and can be somewhat random with some bottles of the same wine showing Premox and others not. So far the most recent vintage where I have experienced Premox is 2008. And, I have encountered it in varying degrees in all vintages back to 1995. Many others have experienced the same results.

But now Premox is believed to have spread to red wines as well. Here are quotes from contributing editor Allen Balik’s recent article in the Napa Valley Register (to read the entire article click here):
…the condition is now being seen in many of the great red wines of the world. Denis Dubourdieu (professor at Bordeaux’s Institute of Oenology and a pioneering researcher in the field) cautions that the condition is not limited to any one region, and winemakers in some of the most notable grapegrowing areas of the world “are in danger of ignoring this threat.” Strong words indeed from someone highly respected in the field….
…when looking at long-term aging of more expensive wines caution and selectivity are a must. Bolder wines made in what is now referred to as the “international style” (so popular with many critics) of high alcohol/low acidity and deeply extracted overripe fruit are shown by most studies to be the most susceptible to premox….

So it looks like that Premox might be happening to many over ripe, super extracted, high alcohol/low acidity wines. These are the new “international syle” wines that get the big points from the big numbers boys. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over time. How many of this style of wine will prove to be not aging well?  I have no personal experience with this because I have not bought or cellared these types of wines. I do not like the style and I have long felt that the wines would not age. Most recently, I expressed an opinion on the new style of Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley in my article Where Has Napa Valley Gone? (to read that article click here).

russian roulette

And, although I do not buy or drink these extracted, high alcohol wines, last year I did taste one cult Cabernet from Napa Valley. At 10 years of age it was dead. The person that served the wine said he bought it because it got 100 points. Strange to me, but many novice wine “investors” have bought large quantities of high numbers wines. This has occurred, despite the fact that there is no track record for any of these wines to improve and last over a long period of time. If Premox is even more widespread as this article suggests, then aging the new “international syle” wines may have become yet another game of Russian Roulette. Since I do not like drinking these “international style” wines young and don’t expect them to age gracefully, I continue to sit out this game. For others who like these wines, sound advice would be to drink them young and be very careful about accumulating a lot of them for “investment”. It’s hard to ever win at Russian Roulette and more so if you stay too long at the party!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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8 comments for “PREMOX: “WHEREFORE ART THOU?””

  1. Thanks John for another great article.
    I`ve had too many white Burgs that were premoxed, but I`m not yet aware of any red wines. The characteristics I find in the whites that suggests premox to me includes a darker, golden color, aromatics of honeysuckle, nutty almond, sherry like notes that continue on into the mid palate. The fruit profile takes on the more mature stone fruit character. What do you find to describe premox?
    What are the characteristics of a premoxed red from color change to the nose and taste and fruit profile?
    I definitely am not a fan of the low acid, high alcohol, super ripe fruit wines and do not purchase them and avoid them as much as possible although as you know, often others bring them to dinners/ tastings and they always serve to remind me of why I`m not a fan.
    Cheers,
    Blake

    Posted by Blake Brown | January 31, 2015, 12:29 pm
  2. John,

    This is not premox, it is simply death. Wines made in this style have none of the things that support a red in aging ; no acidity, little structure, and over-ripe fruit. when such a wine dies at a decade, that is the simple consequence of the style of wine they chose to make.

    It is certainly premature aging, but seems to me to be distinct from the issue we face with white burgundies, which can oxidize prematurely, seemingly at random. To lump this simple winemaking errors with the mystery of premox is to confuse the issue, in my opinion.

    Good article and well worht thinking about.

    Posted by Keith Wollenberg | January 31, 2015, 1:53 pm
  3. Thanks Keith. Your points are very well taken. For me, the fact is that I cannot answer the question about the red wines or the White Burgundies. There seems to be many factors involved. For the White Burgundies I think a lot of it has to do with excessive manipulation. But, we still don’t know exactly who is responsible, how often it occurs, or what is causing it. A lot of the wines are consumed young and it takes a while to show up. All I know is that if I want to age White Burgundies (which I have done for 40 years or so) I am now very careful about the ones I buy to age. I like White Burgundies with age and I believe the greatest of them need 10 or so years to develop. As for the red wines, I have never liked dense high alcohol, low acid, sweet ripe to overripe fruit and strange flavors. So if we use the term Premox for them it is just that well made traditional red wines keep and improve over a long period of time. These new fruit bombs are wines for immediate consumption and don’t seem to be aging. Were they harvested and made differently I don’t believe they would be dying so soon. So is that Premox? Like I said, I really don’t know. What I do know, however, is that a lot of wines that have historically aged over a long period of time are not aging well. The best advise – Caveat Emptor!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | January 31, 2015, 3:43 pm
  4. Thanks Blake.

    I’m with you I have had quite a few Premox White Burgundies. When I find a producer whose wines are not aging I don’t buy them. I am sticking with the ones who have not had problems such as Pierre Yves Colin, Coche Dury, Raveneau, and, with a few exceptions, Leflaive. And, yes when I can get it and afford it DRC. There are a few others such as Ballot Millot and the Clos de la Mouchere from Boillot as well. And, I have also bought some Grand Crus from some of the producers we visit each year to see how they will age. But, so far, that has met with mixed results. But, I do have a lot of White Burgundies in my cellar that have aged well and I drink those along with some nice wines that are delicious to drink young and relatively inexpensive like the wines from Saumaize-Michelin. So I am buying a lot less of wine Burgundy these days which is a factor of the Premox issue, a cellar full of old White Burgundies, lack of space, and I could also add the cost. All are good reasons for me. Others need to make their decisions on when to drink the wines and how much they want to pay. But, for sure, to pay a lot of money today to buy White Burgundy to age is a bigger risk than in the past.

    The early stages of Premox in White Burgundy are not just a golden color. It is a wine that has very little perfume and is flat without much fruit or flavor. From here it advances quickly to sherry with a brown color and nutty earthy flavors that are devoid of fruit. And it gets worse from there when there are objectionable smells and flavors. At this point the wine is completely dead. There is a good run down on this in one of my Premox articles that are referenced at the beginning of this article. You might want to take a look at those.

    As for the reds, like I said, I have almost no experience with dead wines at a young age. The ones I have had have been a few of the “cult” wines which are overripe and alcoholic without much underlying structure. I don’t buy these wines so my experience, like yours, is mostly from tasting wines that are brought by other people. Lack of fruit, dryness, very little flavor interest (or off flavors), and lack of structure are at one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum are wines that are jammy and flabby with no complexity and devoid of structure. Like you I am not a fan. Something I do not want to drink young is not something I want to age and hope that something good will happen. Call me a killjoy, but I do not believe in the tooth fairy!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | January 31, 2015, 4:11 pm
  5. Isn’t there a substantial difference between the two styles of wine we are talking about? White wines with high acidity and structure, that in past years were expected to age well are one thing. The term ‘prematurely oxidised’ could be fairly applied if one is expecting a wine to mature over the medium to long term. Why is the short life span of over ripe, over oaked, low acid warmer climate red wine being described as ‘prem-ox’. Who in their right mind expected them to age well in the first place? It’s not premature.

    Posted by Iain Cameron | February 1, 2015, 2:26 pm
  6. What great and intelligent comments on a thoughtful article. My first experience with this so called “premox”phenomenon occurred when I delayed shipping wines I had bought from the east coast, storing them in a cool cellar in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I got them out here finally at about eight years of age with a bunch of Bordeaux and red Burgundy and vintage ports. I let the whole lot rest for six months before opening anything, and started with a ’95 Verget Corton Charlemagne. Dead as dead can be. In panic I opened a couple of the reds, and they were as I expected them to be, still a little travel weary but fine. The Verget whites were all in various stages of dead in both the premier crus and the Corton Charlemagne. This is more than a decade since this happened, and I have been as selective as you all have since then with no disasters since. I expect my distaste for the same wine styles as all of the respondents and the author’s has something to do with my good experience.

    Posted by Frank Parker | February 3, 2015, 9:40 pm
  7. Thanks Iain. Yes there are a lot of moving parts to the article. With reference to the red wines, I would say that historically red wines from California (Cabernet Sauvignon) and Bordeaux have aged beautifully and developed over decades. The point is that the new “international” style does not seem to be doing so well. My point is that if you like the new “international” style drink it. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. But, many people who are buying these “international” style of wines are not drinking them. They are buying for “investment”. They think because something is great today it will be better tomorrow. Not really. The point is that there is a big difference between historical wines and the new “international” style wines. They may come from the same place, but they are not the same. Call it anything you like, we have seen a change in both some White Burgundies and some red wines. The historical wines aged and developed over an extended period of time. The new “international” style wines are not aging well. That can be stated any way you like. Personally, I think that for wine that has historically had certain characteristics that are no longer there, Premox is a good description. But, call it what you will. I do not want to age these types of wines and do not even like a lot of them young! That makes it easy for me!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | February 5, 2015, 6:33 pm
  8. Thanks Frank. Unfortunately your experience has been shared by all of us. But, fortunately, like a lot of us, you recognized what was happening early and avoided a lot of disappointment. Now we all have to wait to see how it all sorts out. I hope there will one day be a solution, but I am not about to try to guess when that will be. Only time will tell.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | February 5, 2015, 6:40 pm

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