I have blogged before about “how to know when a wine is off”…but a couple of experiences this week made me think that another good topic was how to tell if a wine is just too old!
The first? I was down in my cellar on Sunday…it was finally cool enough to open the door after weeks of scorching heat! I was moving bottles around, creating space, when I saw something…a 1994 Cotes du Rhone! Now, that made it 21 years old…and even for the producer – Coudoulet de Beaucastel – that is pushing it! What it really meant is that I had somehow forgotten about that wine. So I opened it and…
But wait! The second example. The ongoing white Hermitage debacle! Those who read my blog know about this conundrum…I bought a number of highly rated white Hermitage from the northern Rhone before ever having tasted them. Then, when I did…aack! More like Retsina than wine! So I just left them in the cellar…until now.
So what happened? Well, second example first (as I drink another glass…).
The white Hermitage – a 1990 Chante Alouette by Chapoutier – was so deep in colour it was almost orange! Did it have a resiny nose? Yes…but also nuts, wax…and in the mouth huge body, with no oak or obvious oxidation. Was it my favourite style of wine? No. But was it too old…certainly not (as today’s glass shows).
The ’94 Cotes du Rhone was an even better example. Still medium red, it had classic garrigue/dried cherries on the nose. And in the mouth? It could easily have been mistaken for a mature Chateauneuf du Pape – smooth, no tannin, dried fruit, herbs, but – again – no signs oxidation at all. Amazing!
So back to the question – how do you know if a wine is too old?
Well, if you take out wines that are just “off”, a big part of the answer depends on the style of wine you like.
If you like fresh, fruity wines the best, then any wine that is not like that will seem too old. That’s not a bad thing…just something to know. So don’t keep your wine too long, or drink wines that are more than 5 years old.
But if you do like mature wines, then look for some tell tale signs. Is there little or no fruit at all? Are there tea-like aromas on the nose? Is the wine dried out – meaning tannic and that is about it? Is there lots of wood and herbs…but that is it?
And, for white wines, has the oak completely overwhelmed the wine, leaving you with a mouthful of what tastes like sawdust?
If the answers to these questions are “yes”, then the wine is probably too old. Bad? Not necessarily. Not worth drinking? It depends on the style you like or can try to appreciate (says the man who is still sipping the ’90 Chante Alouette 2 days after it was opened).
So there is a bit of a guide for you on old wine. An acquired taste? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it is bad…you just have to be able to recognize it for what it is!