Food & Drink » Anthony Gismondi on Wine

Food and drink: The case of the cellar dwellers

When patience and restraint pays big rewards

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In broad terms, most every wine will improve or get better in the bottle, so storing it for even a few weeks or months in a quiet, cool place allows the wine to gather itself, settle down and recover from the shock of being bottled, shipped and generally bounced around in its early life.

But when it comes to aging red wine, I'm a big fan of the seven- to 10-year cellar rule. Most will taste better given the chance to age in the bottle and, based on my three decades of cellaring wine, most bottles tend to excel between the ages of seven and 10 years when all the major components - fruit tannin, acid and oak - meld together to offer a flavour that's far more complex than the primary fermented fruit flavours installed at bottling.

Once you come to know the delights of sipping aged wine it's much more difficult to go back to drinking simple youthful versions of your favourite blends.

But there is a caveat for young collectors. Remember, not all wines are made to improve with age. Rosés, most aromatic whites, and unoaked bottles require little if any time in the cellar. Their attraction is in their pure, fresh, unadulterated primary fruit.

Price can often be a guide to age or not-to-age question. Few wines under $15 are designed for aging, although reds that contain large amounts of cabernet, syrah, mourvèdre, malbec and zinfandel will benefit from cellar time, no matter what their cost.

Because most red wine is fermented on, and left in contact with, grape skins for an extended period of time they contain large amounts of tannin that need time to combine with the fruit, acidity, alcohol and oak to become a seamless, balanced delicious drink that won't clobber your food.

How long you can age wine is a more difficult proposition. Top wines from highly rated vintages can easily age decades or more under perfect conditions. Those conditions are: a dark, cool (8-14C), vibration-free space with a humidity level of about 60 per cent.

I would also suggest that if you enjoy drinking red wine young you would see significant improvement in mouth feel and texture if you age everything for three to five years.

At seven years many wines will peak and possibly hold that level of deliciousness for another three to five years. The better the producer, the wine and the vintage, the longer you can wait. In the case of vintage port, the aging process can go on for decades.

Contrary to popular belief, at least among collectors, wines do not live forever. I have a number of bottles in my cellar that should have been drunk years ago. Although I must admit from a purely historical sense there is nothing better than opening a bottle of wine, made 30 or 50 years ago, to put your life in perspective. But you need not have too many examples.

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