Many of you have heard about legendary wines opened years after they were bottled and described as having entered a state beyond description and expressing what can only be called as sublime - a sensory experience of a life-time.
Not all wines become mythical after years of ageing. On more than a few occasions I have had friends open old wine, and instead of being elegant, integrated and balanced - they are tired and bitter. Recently a friend opened a 1998 Rosé - this style of wine is made in a quick method and is at its best in the same year and on occasion a few years later - but not 18 years later. We tasted it, and yes it had gone far beyond the vinegar stage. Keeping a wine too long is one problem, but a more common issue is opening a wine too soon.
Sometimes this can be linked to not being informed by the retailer of its style, quality and ageing potential. Last week a friend opened an expensive 2014 bottle of Pinot Noir - the fruit was sharp and tightly wound, it needed a number of years before the wine would develop into the expressive, delicious characters people love about quality Pinot Noir.
Wine is a living and breathing thing, and like a person it goes through stages of adolescence, maturity, old age and tired-fragility. Some wines reach maturity quickly while others are more intense, highly structured and need a decade or more for each orchestral member to play seamlessly together in harmony. Drinking wines which are slightly young can still be enjoyable, but with experience you will realize that they had potential to be so much more.
Today more and more from every wine producing region and winery the world over - wines are being crafted which can be enjoyed in their youth or as soon as they reach the retail shelf or wine-list. This is for a number of reasons - but it benefits those without patience, and the ability to purchase wines and share them straight away. For Restaurants - it would be no good for business if the wine-waiter asked you to come back in 10 years when the wine you have chosen will be at its best.
Many of the wines available in grocery and wine retailers are designed for early consumption. And many people use retailers as their wine cellar - buying wine as and when they need for each occasion.
A prime example is Sauvignon Blanc - which on release can to be enjoyed as soon as you turn the clocks forward for summer. Fruit forward red wines with soft tannins and light (even no) oak, from around the world typically are at their best within 2-3 years. Plus - they simply don’t have the structure to help them age for a long time.
There are many variables used to determine a wine’s ageing potential; including the vintage (growing season), varietal, fruit quality and winemaking techniques used. But sometimes it is difficult to determine a wine’s future potential without tasting a sample shortly after the wine is bottled. That is why cellar-door, in-store and wine club tastings are designed.
Young wines which tend to age well, display pronounced tannins, expressive acidity or high levels of residual sugar, all of which are natural preservatives. Big red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon have good aging potential because of their natural bold tannins. Quality Chardonnay makes up for its lack of tannins with high acidity levels. While, dessert wines like Sauternes contain high amounts of natural residual sugar which helps them age gracefully. But these wines also require expressive fruit and a firm structure that will last the distance until the tannins and acidity soften.
Until you start to become more serious about collecting wine or start purchasing bottles priced over NZ$30 don’t worry too much about trying to age the wines you purchase. But if you are looking to start a wine collection with age-worthy wines.
First - find out for certain what styles of wine you like - what you and your partner enjoy. By asking a few questions - (more than just price and colour…) - you can start buying wines that can age and give you an experience which a recently, bottled youthful wine (like a teenager adding to a conversation, compared with a well-travelled, mature person sharing experiences) - an aged wine will express something richer in depth and character.
If the retailer does not have staff to talk with about the wine - before purchasing visit the winery website and look for detailed tasting notes from the winemaker as a guide. Or better still, follow a website like this one, which gives you more insight into each wine review.
So you find that outstanding wine *(remember you are buying for your taste-buds, as hopefully you get to enjoy the wine) - at a friend’s dinner or a local café-restaurant, and you hunt and find some in a wine store. Then the decision how many bottles to buy. My rule of thumb: if it is a current vintage (i.e. good availability) and it was served with a specific dish and you don’t cook much - buy 2 bottles and put them away for a rainy day - special dinner guests. If you really like it now (and it was hard to find) and you can see yourself enjoying it on several occasions during the year (and if your budget allows) buy 3 - 6 bottles.
But - if you really like the potential in the wine (i.e. you are getting serious about cellaring wine - and can see it improving each year for another 10+ years) - and buying a whole case, possibly en-primeur - can get you a discount, or more importantly a guarantee supply of a wine you really like. Then again if your budget allows, buy 6 - 12 bottles. But now you will need to start a Wine Log - (plus update your home-contents insurance) so you know what you have in your collection. Write things down - and store somewhere safe (though easy to access) so you won’t lose the information. Sure transfer it to a Word or Excel spread-sheet, and save it to your computer, tablet or mobile phone.
A well-documented Wine Log / File will help ensure that you can find the perfect wine and vintage in quick time for the right occasion. Your Wine Log should be what works best for you. Here are a few simple ways to catalogue your wine collection.
Style: If your collection is relatively small and you are not too particular about grape varietals, try organizing it simply by: sparkling, whites, reds and dessert-fortified wines.
Varietal: After allocating one shelf or row each for sparkling, whites, reds and dessert-fortified wines. Look to group the same varietals together so that your Shiraz wines are not mixed in with your Cabernet’s and so forth.
Region & Varietal: If your wine collection is getting a little more substantial, it might be time to add region and varietal to your wine-log / filing system. A Chardonnay from Chablis, France should not be in the same box or the same shelf as a barrel fermented Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay, NZ - if your collection is to be sorted for easy access.
Drinking Window: If your collection is large enough to comprise a number of aging wines, then you might want to further classify your wines to include a drinking window *(start drinking date and a potential peak date). So that you can ensure that you are opening your bottles at their most interesting and peak period. And not past their best.
But just as you diligently add to your cellar and Wine Log - update and remove wines - as you will be disappointed after hunting for that special wine that you drank last Xmas.
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