30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:|
Aging wine without a cellar
Although 99 percent of all the wine made in the world is meant to be enjoyed while it is young and fresh, the remaining 1 percent includes many of the most noteworthy wines. Accordingly, it's the rare wine lover who doesn't eventually decide that it would be a fine idea to "lay down" a few Bordeaux or Burgundies, Ports or fine dessert wines to improve with age.
But then you learn the "gotcha" of wine cellaring: For the best long-term results, fine wines need to be kept at a constant 55-60F (13-15C). Too cold, and they will barely evolve at all; too warm, and they will age quickly but not well.
So for SERIOUS wine collecting, unless you're lucky enough to have a natural cave or earthen basement that maintains the right temperature year-round, you'll have to invest in a free-standing cellar unit - a fancy refrigerator designed for wine - or have an insulated, climate-controlled room built in. As you might imagine, these are not inexpensive options.
Is there any hope for those of us who enjoy wine and want to try aging a few bottles without having to make a four-figure investment?
Well, sort of. With the understanding that it's a compromise, there is no reason to let the lack of a cellar deter you from setting a few good bottles aside. Here are a few hints that may help maximize your success:
Have you tried keeping older wines without "proper" storage? I'd like to hear about your experiences. This link, http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=1&tid=17040, will take you to an ongoing discussion about aging wine in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group. Or send me E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll save them for use in a future report. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
- Start with ageworthy wines: "Big," tannic reds - Bordeaux and good international Cabernet Sauvignons, Rhones and Shirazes, and good Spanish reds like Rioja and Ribera del Duero - as well as fortified dessert wines like Port (both the Portuguese original and the Australian variety) and Madeira hold up well under adverse conditions. Don't try to age whites or delicate reds except perhaps as a limited experiment to see what will happen. Sometimes wine will suprise you.
- Choose your location wisely: Find a cool, quiet corner for your wine collection. Don't use the kitchen or dining room, and choose a spot away from direct sunlight and heat registers.
- Do not disturb: Let your wine bottles rest on their sides, so the cork stays in contact with the wine. And if you've heard the old legend about "turning" your bottles periodically, forget it. Your wine is sleeping, and it doesn't want to have somebody come in and roll it over any more than you would.
- Don't wait too long: While ageworthy wines stored under perfect conditions may last for decades, don't expect that kind of results at room temperature. Just about any cellarable wine should last fine for two or three years, especially in an air-conditioned or naturally cool home environment. But based on my experimence, five years approaches the limit; after that you run an increasing risk that your wine will be "tired" at best ... losing its fruit, browning in color, and taking on the heavy, sherrylike qualities that oxidation imparts. (For a real-world example, see the tasting notes below.)
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30 Second Tasting Notes:
An "aging project"
One of my frequent recommendations for a robust, affordable red wine capable of aging is the Australian Penfolds' Shiraz-Mourvedre blend labeled "Bin 2." Year in and year out, I have found it an exuberant, fruity wine with a pleasant earthy character, while in many vintages it is so "tannic" (astringent) in youth that it shows real potential for improvement with age.
Recently I opened two vintages side-by-side: A just-arrived 1999; and a 1993 vintage that I purchased late in 1995 and intentionally set aside on a rack at room temperature (in an air-conditioned room) just to see what would happen. The results corroborated my suggestions above: The 1993 vintage did hold up, and gain complexity, over five years or so, but I'm glad I didn't keep it any longer. If it's not already "tired," it's starting to blink its eyes and yawn.
Penfolds 1999 Bin 2 Southeastern Australia Shiraz-Mourvedre-Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99)
Clear, dark garnet, it's a bit closed at first but soon opens up to ripe berry fruit with an earthy, "resinous" edge that's likely the Mourvedre. Good fruit and acid balance, it's a full, jammy wine with a distinct edge of tannin lurking behind the fruit. U.S. importer: Southcorp Wines North America, Monterey, Calif. (June 1, 2001)
Penfolds 1993 Bin 2 Southeastern Australia Shiraz-Mourvedre ($7.99 in 1995)
This wine, aged 5 1/2 years at room temperature, is dark ruby in color, with a distinct amber tint at the edge, a standard sign of an older wine. Black fruit and earthy "tree bark" aromas are consistent with earlier tastings of this wine, but now a light, not-unpleasant walnutty note suggests encroaching oxidation. The same's true on the palate, where deep, earthy fruit, balanced and ripe, jostles for attention with light nuttiness and still some surviving fuzzy tannins. It has held up well, but can only go downhill from here. U.S. importer in 1995: PWG Vintners USA, Monterey, Calif. (June 1, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: That delicious earthy Mourvedre character makes both wines a natural match with a meatless dinner of roasted beets and steamed beet greens.
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Major General Charles Palmer, an English gentleman and aide de camp of the Prince of Wales, invested in French vineyards after the Napoleonic wars. From 1816 to 1831, he bought land and buildings in Bordeaux until his holdings amounted to 163 hectares, including 82 hectares under vine. Thanks to his many contacts and his charming manner, Palmer's Claret became all the rage in London clubs, and was appreciated by the future King George IV.
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Vol. 3, No. 20, June 4, 2001
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