While you were sleeping... (Your wine wasn’t)
When a fine wine is laid on its side to rest, days of old are sealed. Vineyard and cellar secrets settle to the bottom of the bottle, patiently waiting to reveal themselves at the ‘pop’ of the cork.
As time passes, a wine’s life carries on; this is a life formed by tannins, acids, alcohol and sugar. How these components interact and talk to one another greatly determines the life span and ‘peak’ of a wine.
Scientists tell us that humans have a physical ‘peak’ in life – a point in time when our bodies are at their healthiest and our minds are at their sharpest.
The same can be said for wine.
The way I see it, there are two types of wine:
Most wines are like James Dean, peaking early in life and best enjoyed young. The majority of world wines produced today (about 95%) are created specifically for consumers to drink and enjoy now.
Then there’s the other 5%, who are more like Meryl Streep; ageing with grace. Beautiful throughout their whole life but maturing and becoming more complex as the years pass. Unfortunately, many of these bottles are taken from us too soon – with the untimely removal of a cork; and some of these wines, are taken too late. They tragically peak and die in the bottle, never able to express their beauty.
So how does an aspiring collector know what to put away, what to enjoy now and where to even start?
Consider storing varieties with a good ability to age:
Sweet: Hungarian Tokaji/Tokay, Riesling, Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc (Sauternes)
Fortified: Vintage Port, Madeira, Sherry and Muscat based fortified wines
Producers with established history and a good track record of vintages, should show better value and capacity to age.
Wine production and technique also plays a role. How were the grapes handled? What products/agents were used in the production of the wine? What happened to that wine as it was produced? These factors all affect a wine’s ability to age. The more meticulously made the wine, the better the ageing potential.
Pay close attention to good vintage years in different regions of the world, as well as good vintage years for specific producers. A good vintage year means that life was good for the vines and grapes in the vineyard, and production went off without a hitch. Components mentioned above (acid, alcohol, sugar and tannin) will work at their full potential if they had the best start in life.
Acid: As wines age, acidity levels flatten. Therefore, the higher the acid, the better.
Tannin: Tannins provide a wine with structure. A good balance of tannin will break down and smooth the wine with time.
Alcohol: Too much alcohol can be volatile in non-fortified wines and this is a big reason for a wine turning to vinegar. An alcohol level of 13.5% tends to be more balanced overall and should assist with ageing.
Residual Sugar: The longest living wines are sweet wines. The higher the residual sugar, the better the potential to age.
Once you’ve established which wines you are going to lay to rest, it’s just as important that they are stored correctly. A consistent temperature of about 13 degrees is ideal for wine storage. Your space needs to be dark and away from direct sunlight. Keep handling to a bare minimum. Store the bottle on its side to keep the cork in contact with the wine. If the cork dries out oxygen will find its way in. Oxygen is one of the biggest killers of an ageing wine.
Drinking an aged wine affords us the chance to time travel and re-experience the memories associated with years past. An aged wine can also grant the unique opportunity to consume something created at a time when we never even existed. Collecting and drinking wines with age is a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
With some careful technique, investigation and a bit of gambling, you can build and grow a cellar that not only increases in value but creates a sense of pride and history in your own home. At the end of the day, your collection should represent you. Even if certain bottles you choose don’t follow the rules above, they will still reward you nostalgically later in life.
Port2Port has a killer wine selection with plenty of quality, diverse wines to catapult your cellar or storage space into rock star status.
Budget dependent, check out some of my recommended wines to tuck away and supplement your collection.
Cheers for now,