Echoes of the Harvest: Aging Wines Gracefully
A favorite pastime for wine collectors is “managing the old stuff”. But it’s a challenge, because even the best wines reach their peak at different times. Some are wonderful after 4 years and some are perfect after 15 years. And once the wine is purchased, it’s the buyer’s job to decide when to drink that ”liquid asset”.
Many wine collectors use the year-end festivities to get off the dime and decide when and where to consume the vino that has been aging to perfection. There are some people who only consume their “peaked wine” when year-end rolls around. Others declare it ready and finish it all off during the month it is deemed perfect. There are no hard and fast rules.
This is a management challenge for sure. It means keeping track of where each vintage, winery, and varietal is racked year-to-year, and for most of us, this is a nearly impossible feat to achieve. Even with computer software, the wine information must still be entered accurately and monitored on a regular basis.
Fortunately, winemakers can provide valuable advice to learn how to stay on top of the aging process. It requires some savvy, but asking the right questions during a good winery tour at a major producer is a good way to get started. This is because most wineries keep part of each year’s production in their cellar for years as “library wines”. So they have to know when they are peaked in order to get the best return on their investment.
If you ask them to explain how they determine which to keep and for how long, most will be glad to illustrate how wines that are destined for long aging taste when they’re young. Note: A bad old wine is just a waste of time and money. Most end up getting poured down the sink. They can be that bad!
One of the keys is in the tannins and acid content. Once you have learned to taste for these components, you can better decide which ones to lay down in the cellar for a future celebration and which ones to break out very soon. With some practice, it is not too difficult to learn how to do this. One rule of thumb is that, the cheaper the wine, the harder it is to find one that is age worthy. In the case of Cabernet Sauvignon (a classic wine to age), finding bottles for under $50 that will last more than 10 years requires a lot of searching.
Surprisingly, there are also white wines that are high in acid that will age gracefully for decades. Many white wines from the Alsace region of France easily make it for 20 years or more. But California Chardonnays are usually best at 2-3 years of age because they have very little acid content and peak quickly.
Our valley bottle shops have old vintages and you may want to try some of these just to see if an old wine is really worth the wait. Have a salesperson guide you to a wine that is 8 years old or more and make sure they insist it is good before shelling out for it. If they want to keep you as a customer, it’s in their best interest to give good advice.
Article by Tom Peiffer, Phoenix Wine Shopping Examiner at Examiner.com
View more of Tom’s articles on Examiner.com by visiting his writer’s page.