Have you ever wondered how a winery and winemaker confidently predicts that a wine should be tasting it’s best in 8-10 years? When you have a few years of wine making behind you, have a style that has been consistent, and grow grapes in a conducive environment; then guessing the ageability of wine is really not that hard. That being said, we assume the wine is not being kept above the kitchen stove where temperature fluctuations happen on a daily basis. Instead we like to imagine they are being stored in pristine cellars where temperature and humidity levels are perfect.
So why are storage conditions so important?
There are three storage conditions of concern to collectors and consumers of fine wine: light, humidity and temperature. The storage area for wine must be dark because ultraviolet (UV) light will damage wine by causing the degradation of otherwise stable organic compounds found in wine. Since these organic compounds contribute to the aroma, flavor and structure of the wine, the changes caused by UV light result in the deterioration of the essence of the wine. Have you ever wondered why clear glass is not often used anymore, with darker green bottles being preferred for red and white wine? Well now you know.
The only reason humidity is an issue in wine storage is because of the use of the traditional cork seal. The relative humidity of the storage area (i.e. the amount of gaseous water in the air) can affect the rate of evaporation of wine from the bottle if the cork is defective. Since corks are far from perfect in their ability to seal a bottle of wine, ullage (the space between the bottom of the cork and the wine level in the bottle) develops in almost all bottles stored for extended periods due to evaporation. If the cork (seal) is defective, low humidity in the storage area will result in wine moving out of the bottle faster over time and significant ullage will develop in less time under these conditions. Thus, the more important issue is the quality of the cork seal and not the relative humidity in the storage area. Of course, very low humidity can also dry out the cork, leading to sealing problems itself. The advent of technical closures and screw caps sort of takes the humidity issue out of the equation, but the conundrum is- are wines bottled under screw caps, really destined for long-term aging? There are some trials being done on wines bottled under screw caps and the results are quite astonishing, but that is for another blog post I think.
Assuming one has good cork seals and a non-drying (i.e., moderately humid) and dark storage area, the most important factor in the storage and aging of wine is temperature. If you ask most anyone associated with wine, from collector to so-called expert, they will most likely tell you that the ideal storage temperature is 55° to 60°F. According to conventional wisdom, wine develops most harmoniously if stored in this temperature range with little or no fluctuation. So, for example, an excellent storage temperature would be 55°F with a fluctuation of plus or minus one degree.
Let’s assume that storage is perfect and that all variables associated with atypical aging have been taken care of, all that leaves is the quality of the wine. Hang on a moment, what determines the quality of a wine, what if it was a good wine that was designed to be consumed in one to two years? The plot thickens. Hah, a great wine can certainly be something that needs to be consumed young, think Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc for example.
Their charm lies in their accessibility and their lack of over complicated terms and descriptors. I would just love to read a label where it says the following.
Enjoy me, for I am delicious
Case closed, drink it how you like, when you like and with whom you like, and if you love it, have another. With all the food pairings, temperatures you have to serve it at, don’t we sometimes just have to remember to enjoy the wine, is it not the reason we make it?
Before I digress too much further, as a winemaker I am asked to write back labels for wines that I have made prior to them being bottled. The information we provide includes the blend, some flavors and aromas the customer might perceive and the ageability of the wine. For our 2007 Heritage, I said the wine should age 8-10 years and drink beautifully. The question is, can I confidently say that the wine will actually taste that good if someone laid it down for that period of time? Honest answer, I think so but do I know for certain? NO!
I thus thought I needed to develop a tasting guide for all the wines that we have made here at Keswick Vineyards, advising the consumers who have these wine in their cellar if they need to be drinking them or holding onto them. My research project thus consists of opening up 115 wines over the next few weeks and developing new tasting notes with the suggestions of drink now, not yet ready, or past its prime.
It should be a very informative period of “tasting”, one that will be hugely beneficial to me as a winemaker to re-visit wines that I have not tasted for awhile. I should also able to go back to my original notes and see how these wines have aged, as I have them stored in a Eurocave where the temperature has been constant and any atypical aging can be directly attributed to wine making instead of environmental conditions.
I shall take into account vintage variation, wine making methodologies and wax lyrical about non-interventionist wine-making. I shall present a very honest opinion [for this will be from my point of view] about how the wines are tasting at that very moment.
I am therefore asking if you taste an older vintage of our wines, please let me know what you think about it. Could the wine age longer or was it past its prime and how long would you still leave it for if you have another bottle? I hope to have this tasting guide up in about a month. HMM, 4 weeks and 115 bottles of wine = a rate of 28.7 bottles per week. You have got to love doing some research!
Stay tuned for the results.