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The French say the British drink their wines too old. The British that the French drink them too young. It all comes down to personal preferences. Or does it?

It seems that the wine world is generally split between those that like their wines young and those that prefer older vintages. Only yesterday I became unreasonably snotty-nosed, when someone at the next table opened a bottle of Ch Margaux 2010. Did this fellow, undoubtedly well off, not realise it was infanticide opening such a young Ch Margaux? If that outrageously-priced bottle had been mine, I would have assuredly nurtured such a treasure for another few years! In hindsight, having never tasted Margaux 2010, it seems. unreasonable to be critical. The fellow, judging from his expression, was clearly in vinous heaven. Perhaps he was French.

Drinking older vintages requires not just forward planning, but a devilish amount of patience. The drinker needs to spend money now, knowing the pleasure of opening the bottle maybe years away. Sometimes decades. And that’s assuming they have somewhere suitable to store their wines, for if there’s an unassailable truth, it’s that heat kills wine.

Like us, wine ages. Some romantics consider it to almost living, almost sentient. As years go by it loses youthful exuberance. Tannins become softer and rounder. Fruity flavours are gradually replaced by complex tertiary aromas and tastes. At some time in its life, the wine reaches its optimum drinking window where the wine will improve no more and will start a gradual decline into extreme old age. (Eventually turning to vinegar). Some wines will take decades to reach their optimum drinking window. Others just a few years. Yet others are not worth keeping at all.

The fellow, judging from his expression, was clearly in vinous heaven.

The consensus is that cheaper wines should be drunk early and that more expensive wine will benefit from at least some bottle age. Personally, I would take this piece of advice with a pinch of salt. I have found that even modest wines can be transformed into something better given a few years of bottle age. I recall when I was studying for my WEST diploma and not being familiar with Australian wines, as most of my fellow students seemed to be, I was left with no option but order several mixed cases from down under as passing the tasting exams without knowledge of New World Wines was improbable. One of the bottles, a modest £5 Barossa Valley shiraz, lay forgotten in my cellar for perhaps five or six years. It should have been undrinkable according to the experts, but unexpectedly had developed into a truly fine wine. A veritable bargain at the price! This is not a one-off example for I have found this to be true of many modest wines. 

Before global warming many wines, particularly French, were unapproachable young. (Many, like Ch Margaux still are.) Excessive tannins required years in bottle before the wines became drinkable. Now, increasing temperatures and modern wine making techniques they can be drunk earlier. If they’ll ever achieve that Nirvana of complex tertiary aromas remains to be seen. (More and more drinkers claim certain wines are not what they used to be and can pinpoint the exact year where the wine went ‘modern’.) 

Drinking older vintages requires devilish amount of patience.

Bordeaux Reds

Generally bought to be cellared. As a very general rule start drinking after their tenth birthday if expensive. Drink less expensive bottles (sub £10) sooner particularly if you like fruitier wines. A recent a bottle of Domain de Chevalier 1970 proved to be exceptionally good, and nothing felt old about it! 

(An email from a wine merchant just arrived as I am writing this is, offering 1983 Ch Margaux straight from the producer at £1500 a bottle promising it has now achieved its perfect drinking window – billionaires take note!)

Bordeaux Whites

Can age well; particularly Sauternes, which like most dessert wines can be long-lived. Dry wines can also be age worthy and I’ve been lucky enough to taste 40 years old Bordeaux whites still amazingly drinkable. 

Sancerre (Whites)

Drink them young. I could be wrong here as I have never tasted a Sancerre more than 3 or 4 years old. It’s a lovely part of France to visit but if its great wine you are after Sancerre may not be your first choice.

Burgundy (Reds)

Can last decades. Producer dependant for sure. Probably best after 5 years. I still have Burgundy from the 90s. Probably should open them sooner rather than later.

Burgundy (Whites)

A white Burgundy from Francois Jobard 2000 last week proved to me recently how well white Burgundy can age. Wonderful! 

Rioja (Reds)

Rioja are truly aged worthy. Extremely long-lived wines. The cork will give up long before the wine. The 2010 is drinking well now. From a good producer it should last another twenty years easily.

Rioja (Whites)

Wines like Tondonia last for decades. Not sure about the rest of the bunch. Worth experimenting.

Port

Their tannins and high alcohol content make these wine extremely long-lived. Keep as long as you can!

How to Store Wine.

Temperature about 16°C though anything below 20°C will do. Will age slower the lower the temperature. Humidity about 75% to avoids the cork drying out. Store in total darkness away from vibrations.

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