Are older wines always better?

An informative guide to whether wine will age well.

16 Sep 2013
wine storeage

A very popular question that wino’s often get asked is 'How long can I keep this wine?'

If I’m being facetious, I would say 'Until you open it' but really what people are asking is, 'Will this wine improve and how can I tell when it’s at its peak?'

Here are a few things to think about, followed by a couple of great, older examples.

1. In order to age well, a wine needs to have a ‘preservative’ – some quality which helps keep the wine in good condition as it changes character.

In most wines, it’s one of the following – alcohol, tannin (the drying effect a young red wine can have in your mouth), sugar or acidity.

Sometimes a wine can combine two elements – most top Italian red wines generally have high tannins and high acidity whilst the finest German Rieslings are renowned for high acidity and sugar, even if the alcohol can be very low.

2. There must be something worth preserving from the start! If a wine doesn’t have enough fruit and flavour from the outset, no amount of preserving factor will cause it to improve over time.

Wines which are meant to age should have concentrated and intense flavours and these can change and evolve over time.

3. You get what you pay for. If you pay R30 for a bottle of wine, you should only keep it as long as lunchtime in my opinion. In all likelihood, that wine is meant for easy-drinking, and keeping it too long will actually mean it will lose its freshness and appeal.

If you want to see a wine improve over time, expect to be spending around R100+ for a white wine and R150+ for a red.

4. Keep it well. That means not in those horrible wine bottle slots built-in next to your oven as they are in many kitchens!

Wine needs a constant and preferably cool temperature if it’s going to age nicely, so find the coolest, darkest place in your house where the temperature stays that way all year round and keep your wine there.

Alternatively, invest in a wine fridge – I got mine from Boardmans and it works very well.

If keeping your wine for a long time isn’t possible, the alternative is to find a winery who will do it for you.

Vilafonte Wines in Stellenbosch has taken the decision to deliberately keep back some of each year’s releases so that they can be put on the market when they believe they are ready to drink.

The 2005 Series ‘M’ is a merlot-based wine and has just been re-released at R1,250 a bottle. Pricey, but you have to remember to add in the 8 years ageing it’s enjoyed in the cellars to appreciate it to the full.  It’s rich, dark, truffley and chocolate-y and to my mind, it only just starting to show all its charms with plenty more fruit and supportive tannins to keep this in excellent shape for another few years.

If you are quick, you can still pick up some older vintages of La Motte’s very lovely Pierneef Shiraz-Viognier blend from the farm. Their latest release, the 2010 (R199 cellar door price) is actually drinking superbly right now – lots of black berries and cherries with hints of licorice and flowers – but you can also buy the 2004 (R495) and the 2007 (R286) if you’re quick.

Tasting all 3 wines together over a Sunday lunch was a pure pleasure and really shows how a little patience with wine can bring huge rewards.

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