There is a certain romantic allure surrounding drinking a really old wine. However most people don’t really know why the aged wine they are enjoying is any better than it was in the first year. What is the oldest wine you have tasted; did you like it or understand the differences of its age? It’s a question I’m often asked my new customers starting down the path of wine collection. Learning the answer to this question is half the fun of cellaring wines.
First, you need to stock your cellar with age worthy wines. You might be surprised to know that only 1% of the wines produced in the world are built to last the test of time. Most of the cellar worthy wines will actually have poorer ratings on release and only gain perfection with age.
Some people believe you can set a price around what wines can be cellared. I have heard that wines under $30 are meant to drink now. So if you buy any wines above, they are good to cellar. This just isn’t true. The only way to know if a wine can be cellared is by tasting it and understanding its character and structure.
In reds you need to start with good tannin structure. You’re also looking for good acid levels in both red and white wines. You want a wine that is well balanced in all areas and one with good fruit structure. If the balance and structure is out of whack in the beginning, its unlikely cellaring will improve the wine.
For example a Semillon may taste insipid and fruitless in its first few years, but try this wine after 10, or even 20 years and the cellar has helped it improve in taste and structure. You now have a beautiful complex wine to enjoy. On the flip side, some of the best reds to cellar start off with tannin descriptions such as; grippy, closed or austere. But 10+ years in the cellar and the fruit bouquet and grippy tannins have made way for a wine with an earthy palate and silky tannins.
One of the first changes you may recognise in aged wine is the colour. Your red wines will start a ruby red and as time goes by they become less translucent and have a brownish tinge. For whites they grow deeper in colour, along with texture. As a chardonnay grows older the mouth feel is much more thick and sticky, giving it the complexity desired with age. This can be described as the wines having more stewed fruit characters vs primary fruit flavours when it is young.
Why not start with some of your favorite wines and as they get close to the winemakers recommended cellaring periods start to open one a year. This way you can experience the changes in the wines as they happen. Doing it this way also means you will know when the wine is having its “Perfect Moment”. When this happens you know they should all be enjoyed soon, before the aging process goes too far and leaves you with a spoiled wine.
The best advice is to just enjoy the journey!