Drinking a perfectly aged bottle of wine, a wine that evolved into an experience, offers any person a singular delight. No ordinary quaffing wine, but a wine that has an ethereal feel that is almost like a perfect moment in time. However, do you know how to properly take care of aged wine? Bristol Bar & Grille’s Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares tips on how to store, care and enjoy a few of his favorite aged wines.
Aged wines: Structure
Drinking aged wine is truly an excellent experience, but a subjective one. Some connoisseurs of wine prefer the flavors of un-aged wines, as they are different than those in aged wines. However, for me, finding a delicious aged wine creates something truly heavenly.
One of key to an aged wine is structure. Part of a wine’s structure is tannin. Tannin comes from skins, wood ageing and other things. Tannin is that astringent or bitter quality that can make a wine harsh and unyielding in its youth. A young age-worthy wine can also lack a certain amount of flavor as the tannin can seemingly hold flavor and aroma down. When the tannin fades away, flavors appear and take more of the center stage. Fruit and oral character seem to take o and provide more complexity, more nuances and elegance.
Keep in mind not all wines can age, and it is better to drink a wine that is a little too young than too old. The saying goes, after a decade there is no such thing as good wines, but there is such a thing as good bottles. Good bottles mature in excellent cellar conditions.
Aged wines: Temperature
What you need is a place that will remain cool; with a good humidity; no direct light, vibrations or off odors; and the ability to keep the bottles resting on their sides. Wine will age best at a constant temperature. Large swings in temperatures (50 degrees one day and 70 degrees the next day) will harm wine. This will make it mature faster and allow it to lose its delicate fruit qualities. While experts will say that 50 to 55°F is ideal for long-term storage, most of us are not storing wine for a decade. However, if you are, your cool cellar conditions can allow a wine to mature slower. Humidity should be around 50 to 75°.
Aged wines: Wine cellar
While not as important as temperature, a dry cellar can make the corks contract and allow the wine to oxidize. An overly humid cellar will cause the labels to mold or fall off. Direct light and vibration will negatively affect wine by prematurely ageing it, and off odors may seep into the wine adding the undesired odor to the wine. Wine racking should allow a wine to lie easily on its side; this keeps the wine in contact with the cork, preventing it from contracting and permitting the entrance of air.
Recently, I went on a trip to the Tampa Bay area for my brother Brent’s wedding to the delightful Tania Westcott. We celebrated their impending nuptials at the legendary Bern’s Steak House. Bern’s is the perfect spot to drink aged wines. They have the largest wine cellar in the world, full of aged wines.
The head Sommelier Brad Dixon promised some treasures for our group, and allowing him to use my cell phone when his would not work on our wine trip to Argentina surely would have a small reward. Our party of eight wine aficionados’ allowed us to sample several magnums (the equivalent of two bottles). The larger the bottle, typically the longer the wine will age. With most of our party of eight ordering Bern’s prime beef, aged red wine was the logical choice. Giving Mr. Dixon carte blanche with final but unnecessary approval had its benefits.
Aged wines: Pinot Noir
We started with a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France. No less then Gran Cru would do for this occasion, so he brought a magnum of Chateau Corton Grancey 1976. The firm Louis Jadot owns Chateau Corton Grance. It is in the prestigious area of Corton in the Cotes De Beaune of Burgundy. Red wine losses color with age. This wine had a light red color with a fresh and flavorful taste made up of red cherry, light earth, and a nuance of French oak and baking spice. It had very light tannin but crisp and refreshing acidity. The wine was vivacious without being forceful and flavorful without being full-bodied.
Aged wines: Grenache
The second magnum was a Chateauneuf Du Pape Delas Freres 1961. I am an easy target for a quality Chateaunuef Du Pape. This Grenache based wine from the southern Rhône of France was more bodied then the Burgundy, with a slightly darker color, and the flavor of Kirshwasser, anise, leather with a rich spiciness of white pepper, smoke and faded rose. The wine’s light tannins and good weight paired well with the beef, but we needed one more bottle to finish the dinner.
The last magnum would be a right bank Bordeaux from Saint Emilion, Chateau Soutard 1961. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the main grapes of this region. This Bordeaux had the fullest color, and for a wine of 51 years of age, it appeared youthful. The medium-bodied wine offered flavors of cassis, herbs, plums and light oak. However, the remaining light tannins integrated nicely with a slight cigar box quality. If I were to have this wine blind, I would have guessed it to be half its age.
Aged wines: Madeira
My brother and I finished the meal with an ounce of Terrantez Barbeito Madeira 1834. Madeira is, without exception, the longest living wine in the world. The unique character of Madeira is that it undergoes a heating process for several months after fermentation. This practice evolved in the 18th century when someone noticed wines shipped through the tropics improved markedly. This heating process combined with fortification, long barrel aging and high acidity account for its long age-ability and, even more unusual, its ability to remain drinkable for years once opened. The sweet and full-bodied wine contained tastes of baked fruits, crystallized violets and baked nuts. The wine was fresh, alive and penetrating, with a long persistent finish, in short – remarkable!
I am ready to meet my brother and my sister-in-law at Bern’s again to enjoy the great pleasure of drinking aged wines!