I was struggling a bit this week, trying to figure what to write about. But then, inspiration!
While still lovely outside, it has cooled down enough to go back into my cellar for some older red wines. We were going to have barbecue leg of lamb (which turned out fabulous, by the way), so I thought…how about Cabernet Sauvignon? A peek at my cellar book showed an Aussie Cab was down for drinking this year – a 1999 Maxwell Lime Cave – so it seemed a match made in heaven!
Until I pulled the cork, that is…
First off, the cork was brittle, and almost broke off. But that isn’t necessarily unusual for a 15 year old wine. However, when I poured it and stuck my nose inside the glass…oh no!
Brown sugar, essence of tea…was it over the hill? And, hence, my topic for today (you have to wait to the end to hear if the wine was done, by the way!).
So how do you know if your wines are too old? Not “off” – meaning there wasn’t something wrong with the cork or the wine itself – but just past the date when they are enjoyable.
Well, a couple of simple tests will help you.
For white wines, it is easier. If they are oaked – meaning mostly Chardonnay – check out the colour first. If the golden yellow has deepened significantly, that is a bad sign. Worse, though, is if you smell it and…all you get is wood! That probably means the oak has completely overwhelmed the fruit, leaving you with a mouthful of toothpicks. Double check by tasting, of course, but if the wine tastes like it smells, it is probably done (unless you like chewing on wood).
Reds, though, can be a different matter altogether.
Colour may not be as good an indicator. Tonight’s wine, for example, was still a deep red at 15 years of age. So no hint there.
So now it is in your glass, dark red…what next?
Well, there are some telltale aromas that could indicated your wine as passed its “best before date”. Burnt leaves and tea are a couple of them – in my experience, that often shows that the wine has aged beyond its fruit. Sweetness on the nose might also be another indication. And the same with over woodiness (similar to the white wine example above).
But do taste it to confirm! Sometimes, older wines just get funky on the nose! It may blow off, but sometimes it doesn’t.
If you taste the wine and it is unpleasant – with the same kind of flavours as aromas – then it is probably done. But you may be surprised…
Which brings us back to my wine from tonight! A somewhat off-putting nose lead to a very nice vanilla/black currant wine! It was a bit dried out, but not woody at all. Turned out to be a great example or an old Cabernet Sauvignon, and way better than many Bordeaux of the same age!
So there you go…some tips on how to tell if your wine is too old.
But the last one is the most important one. If you still like the taste of the wine – white or red – then it doesn’t really matter. Drink it, for goodness sake! Your taste is the one that matters the most!