At the Dinners Club of 64 recently I served four “older red wines”, none under 20 years of age and all Cabernet Sauvignon. Surprisingly they were all traveling well for their age with the Leo Buring 1986 softened and taking on an almost Pinot Noir character. That’s the thing with Cabernet it needs age to become enjoyable rather than just drinkable. Some of the younger members of the club had not tasted such older wines.
Today, most wines consumed still have the varietal fresh fruit and youthful taste along with bright clean colours and lovely grape aromas. It always amazes me how many people’s appreciation of cabernet, for instance, is based on these young, racy qualities of what I regard as almost raw wines. However, if well balanced and concentrated, they really need bottle age to allow the true development of their qualities. Most wines commercially produced can be drunk at the next BBQ and would not benefit from aging.
I must admit my wine cellar contains some older wines of the type that at the time were “put down” to age and then many forgotten. Yes, some of the labels are faded or separated from their bottles, a few show leakage through the cork and dark gooie substance clinging to the neck, ullage is seen in others, but surprisingly, if not too great, these when opened are still holding up, be they mere shadows of their former selves.
Others, unfortunately, are beyond redemption, but I have kept some of them for sentimental values or reminders of events or visits to wineries in the past. Those were the days when the wines showed great promise and would improve with age. At one time it was fashionable to buy a dozen bottles with the view of trying one every year to see when it was optimum to consume it!
Storage of wine is obviously important. Good wine with balance and the potential to age gracefully should not find a home under the stairs or bed and it doesn’t appreciate being shaken up too much!
Modern kitchens seem to include wine racks above the fridge or at the end of the central island- for wine about to be consumed but not for storage. Indeed, we all know most wine is consumed on the day of purchase, but I am really addressing those wines with aging potential and of course those that need age before the can be enjoyed.
I have always kept a cellar initially in the sandstone rooms under the houses of our Sydney federation style homes and in the last 20 years a purpose-built “cellar”- read cement water tank lowered into the side of the hill, and air-conditioned. The aim has been to have minimal and slow temperature variation, in part to protect the corks and to avoid undue influences on the wines.
When you think about it, wine put into a cellar is there not to be drunk!
Wine is still a living product that needs protection particularly from oxygen. The hope is the slow microbiological activity and chemical interactions will enhance it.
The phenolics as they combine become heavy and drop out of solution, forming the sediment deposits and at the same time softening the wine. Simultaneously the inky colour produced by the phenolics fades and the edges of a wine in the glass appear orange and finally brown.
With the transformation of a vigorous, fruity, tannic young wine the secondary and bottle aged characters emerge-the smells and flavours that are the reward for cellering the wine.