The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Beauty of Old Wines

Posted on | December 10, 2015 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

1-very-old-wine-carl-purcellI used to prefer New World, full, oaky wines with lots of vanilla and fruit. But the more I taste, the more I have come to appreciate not only a plethora of varietals, styles, regions and producers. Above all, I have also grown to love old, mature wines.

A common question that people always asked in the showroom is “How long do you think this wine will last?” The truth is that there are so many factors at play that it is really difficult to measure how a wine will age. Most of the time, all we have to go on is by tasting older vintages next to younger ones to compare past performances, but wine is a living thing and each vintage has its own personality, making this method inexact.

IMG_20150206_203403Putting aside vintage, the main factor that we tend to miss is our own personal preference. The more wine we taste, the more our palates change. I believe that appreciating old wine is an acquired taste that comes with experience. I have also found with little exceptions that someone who is new in the journey of wine will tend to not like the taste of older wine, preferring instead the fresh fruit and the primary aromatics of young wines. However, with time, anyone can come to appreciate the nuances offered by a well-aged bottle with its secondary and tertiary aromas. And, of course, there is an ideal period where the flavors of both youth and maturity are balanced, although finding that sweet spot is hard to gauge.

One important fact is this: 95 to 99 percent of all the wine produced in the world is intended to be drunk while it is young and fresh (within five years of release). Although all wines change and usually improve with some age, wine maturity does have its limits. Because wine is a living thing, it too will die. It’s not just the wine’s type, grape composition, vinification protocol or vintage that decides its lifespan; chemical composition and storage conditions also contribute to a wine’s evolution.

IMG_20150206_192058Young wine drinkers don’t really know what to expect when they have a mature wine—and here I’m going to limit my discussion to red. (While whites can age too, they have a very different, possibly even stranger evolution–that said, the organic whites of Fiorano are extraordinary.) As a wine evolves, its primary aromas of blackberries, cherry, plum and cassis fade or dissipate and with time they give way to notes of tobacco, truffle, earth, smoke, cedar wood, cigar box, forest floor, chocolate, licorice, and leather—just to name a few. These earthier, more complex scents are prized by some collectors because they indicate maturity and complexity.

If you are an average wine drinker that enjoys a glass of wine every now and again or mostly on special occasions and holidays, save your cash and save the mature wine for someone who will appreciate it. But if you’re curious and want to expand your palate, be patient. If you truly get passionate about wine, you will develop a hunger for fine matured wine; you’ll seek it out, and you’ll learn about it. And to answer the question as to how to know when a wine has reached its peak or begun to fade away pull the cork and take a taste and judge for yourself. It’s a personal preferences, and what one wine lover adores, another may pour down the sink.

If you’re interested in enjoying some mature wines, here are some bottles from 1995 and here are bottles from 1990.

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