Old wine — the good, the bad and the ugly

A beauty of an old wine tonight, but it also demonstrated all that is good — and bad — about old wines.

The wine — the 1990 York Creek Petite Sirah from Ridge Vineyards in California.  After more than a little anxiety (see below) it turned out to be great! Still amazingly dark in colour (almost black), it has smokey, peppery, earthy black fruit, no wood that I can detect, medium body and smooth, black cherry fruit.  Hard to believe it is almost twenty years old!

So the “good” of old wines is obvious from the above…you buy them many years before in the hope that that they will evolve, lose some of the mouth-puckering tannin that make them unenjoyable when young, and still have enough fruit to be nice to drink. When that happens it is a treat.

The bad? Well, the older a wine gets, the greater the risk that something has gone wrong with it, often something that is beyond your control. Is the cork leaking? Have the storage conditions been too variable? Has the wood just taken over from the fruit? You won’t know until you open it and smell/taste it. And when it is gone — for whatever reason — it is a real disappointment.

And what about the ugly? Well, that happened tonight as well. It has to do with the cork.  The older corks get, the more brittle they get.  And that makes them harder to get out. Right now, I have cork pieces all over my dining room table…little pieces, big pieces….It took two different cork screws to get the cork out, and even then some bits got into the wine. I had to double decant it — once into the decanter, and then back into the bottle (that had been rinsed out).  Fortunately, I could taste no impact of the cork. And, no guests for dinner…that would have been embarrassing!

But even though there is “good, bad and ugly” to old wine, the good far outweighs the other two when the wine is in good shape. The result can be a truly memorable experience.



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