January 7th, 2009 – Aging Wine

The weekend is here, so back to the cellar! Tonight, it is the 2004 Burrowing Owl Syrah, which I think is their best wine.
Oh, oh…smells a bit dodgy…colour is good, but the nose has a bit of that oxidized/tea characteristic that tells me things may be going south a bit. Nice and smooth in the mouth, with pepper, ripe black cherries and an almost syrupy like consistency…hmm. I tried another glass a couple of hours later and the oxidized nose was even more advanced. Luckily, this was my last bottle.
Given this experience, it is a good time to talk about aging wine. The vast majority of wine – well over 90% — is meant to be drunk within the first six months of release. So very few wines are worth keeping…and why keep them anyway?
Well, for me, there are some wines that taste better as they get older. I won’t go into detail about which ones, but the reason they seem to taste better – to me, anyway – is that they smooth out and get more complex. The gritty tannins (those things that make your mouth pucker, like when you let tea sit too long in your glass) go away and the simple, grapey fruit flavours are replaced by a mixture of fruit, herbs and spices. The best ones keep their fruit essence (without fruit, why drink the wine?), but the range of aromas and flavours can become quite amazing.
The challenge, though, is what I experienced tonight – a wine that got “too old” before I drank it. Why? Well, could be a bad cork, one that either tainted the wine or let more air in quicker. Or, simply, the wine just got old. It is alive, after all, and – through the cork – in contact with the outside environment.
There is no way to know for sure what state a wine is in until you try it, bottle by bottle. I always buy at least two of the same wines for my cellar, and then figure out when to try the first one. Base on that, I determine when to drink the second.
Most of the time things turn out okay. In fact, there seems to be more times that the wine could have lasted/matured for a few more years, than those that are over the top. So tonight is more the exception than the rule.
One last thing about aging wine. For those unfamiliar with what old/older wine tastes like, my advice is find a way to taste some before deciding to invest in a cellar. That’s because all that fresh, fruity taste and smell goes away as wines age..and some people don’t like that at all! I remember being at a Burgundy tasting early in my wine education involving wines that were 15 to 20 years old. It turned quite controversial, as a number of people thought the wines were terrible, with little or no fruit! The leaders of the group tried, patiently, to explain that is what happens to wine as it ages – fruit is replaced by complexity.
The lesson from all of this? Go out and buy and an older wine to try before you invest in a cellar to age wines. If you like the taste, then go for it. If not, stick to younger wines. Either is fine, but it is best to know what you are getting into before you get there!



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