I love drinking old wine!
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to drink some older Bordeaux wines and it reminded me how much I enjoy drinking older wines. To be honest I enjoy drinking wines when they are at their peak, even if this is not always possible. This might occur after 1,5,20 or even 50 years. However, for over 98% of the wines available on the market, most are meant for immediate consumption. So how do you determine when to drink that special bottle of wine?
This is a very vague question and one which is challenging to answer. Most consumers will buy that special bottle to age to celebrate a wedding anniversary, birth of a new born or for another special occasion. These wines will be kept in non-optimal conditions, with variation in temperature and humidity, and were probably purchased due to the love of a wine and not necessarily due to its ageing potential. The day arrives, that special day, the one you have been waiting 25 years for, you open the bottle in hope of greatness and your heart sinks. That special bottle has faded and is no longer a reminder of the greatness it once was. I have heard this story more often than I imagine.
So how can some wines age and others not? Take a wine which is produced in bulk, high yield, no oak, machined harvest, little skin contact and costs $10/ bottle. Is this meant to age? Probably not, and was made for immediate consumption. On the other hand those wines which have been produced using hand selected quality grapes, certain skin contact, careful oak management with good acidity and tannins have the ingredients to age. Ageing allows all of the components to properly integrate and for the wine to show at its peak a perfect balance. Ageing improves the harmony which occurs between the fruit, tannin, acidity and allows for further development of secondary and possible tertiary flavours, such as stewed, baked and dried fruit along with more earthy and spice compositions. Certain wines actually do require ageing to hit their 'sweet spot' and when young, these wines might be too aggressive and even feel unbalanced due to the lack of harmony between the different compositions of the wine.
These regions are examples of wines which absolutely require ageing in bottle:
- Barolo and Barbaresco - The Nebbiolo grape is high in both acidity and tannin, and hence these wines are certainly aggressive when younger, hence age in bottle will help to soften these wines. 10-30 years of ageing is required.
- Bordeaux - Cabernet and Merlot tend to have a higher level of tannins, and hence time is required to soften these tannins and a better balance between the fruit and oak. 8-30 years of ageing is required.
- Burgundy - It is often said that drinking Burgundy young should be a criminal offence since you are only extracting 10% of the full potential of the wine. This is often true for those 1er Cru and Grand Cru wines, which can age spectacularly for 20+ years.
These wines are examples where no time in bottle is required prior to enjoying:
- Fruity whites - You want to keep those fruity flavours and that zippiness which makes these wines so unique. E.g New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Torrontés and Vinho Verde.
- Sub $20 bottles of wine - This is rather generic and of course there are exceptions, but in general cheaper quality bottles of wines are made for immediate consumption.
There is certainly exceptions to this rule and you can find $30 bottles that will last for 20 years, or bottles at a $100 which should be consumed straight away!
A special note for Vintage Port. I tasted through the 2016s 18 months ago and even though I was able to determine their quality level at that time, they were certainly difficult to fully appreciate. These wines can age for decades and even this wonderful 1994 Dow's Vintage Port had a lot of life left in it.
Review on some older wines which I recently tasted:
Château Clinet 1996 - 93 points
I am always asked 'the wine' which lit the fire for me. Well, it is between this and the 2011 Insignia. Either way, this wine was absolutely wonderful this evening. The nose showed plenty of black cherries, plums slightly on the maturing side, with savoury herbs, truffles and wild mushrooms. The palate was soft, round and alluring with elegant plush maturing black fruit, thyme, black pepper, mushrooms and fresh earth. The tannins are finely integrated into the wine, yet the acidity is still present and shows possible further development. This wine is still standing strong and still has a few years left in it. The finish was elegant and this wine highlights the uniqueness of 'Clinet'. An absolute pleasure to drink.
Château Beausejour (Duffau Lagarrosse) 2000 - 93 points
Drinking next to the Clinet 1996 and clearly this has more structure. This has floral aromas along with liquorice, dark fruit, spice and black pepper. The palate was structured, rich and full with dark black cherries, plums along with pepper, anise, fresh herbs and spice. the finish was more elegant and straight compared to the Clinet, yet I scored them both the same. This still has time to go!
Dow's Vintage Port 1994 - 94 points
I am always impressed by how Vintage Port tastes after close to 25 years of ageing. There is so much freshness to this along with the classic black fruit, cassis, chocolate, smoke, liquorice, dense palate the structure is amazing along with a fine finish. Everything is coming together yet I know this can still keep going another 20 years without a sweat. Wow!