I recall when I was studying for my WSET Diploma. After two years of study the finals were looming, and I was conscious that my practical knowledge of New World Wines was sadly lacking. It was almost a certainty that some of the wines to be tasted and assessed blind in the London finals would be New World. Having limited access to these wines in Gibraltar, I had no option but to order 6 cases of assorted Australian, Chilean, South African and Californian wines from a merchant in London.
Once in Gib, I recall decanting each wine into 100ml bottles and over the ensuing couple of weeks tasted and retasted these hoping that when the time came, I would be able to tell if a particular wine had any New World characteristics. As it turned out the only New World wine in that year’s exam was a sweet muscat from Australia which was easy to identify. The rest of the wines, tasted over several days, turned out to be firmly Old World!
The inherent risk of buying an over-the-hill dud remains.
Years later I came across an unopened bottle of the wines I had ordered. It was a £5 entry level Aussie Shiraz from Barossa Valley which according to the wine merchant’s notes should have been drunk year before. The wine should have been ready to be poured down the sink yet somehow, over the ensuing years, the wine had transformed itself into something rather special. It confirmed what many believe that even humble wines will benefit from some bottle age and stored correctly, most wines will improve and keep much longer than generally accepted.
So, what’s the difference between younger and older wines? In general, older wines will have their fruitiness muted and, in its place, secondary tertiary notes like wood, tobacco or even leather may take its place. Some wines, like a top Bordeaux, may require twenty years or more before aggressive tannins become approachable. Others are drinkable the year of release, especially whites.
Recently I attended a small, informal wine tasting, knowing that most of the wines would inevitable be older vintages. As it happened many of the wines turned out to be considerably older that I had anticipated, the oldest being a 1952 Barbaresco.
Before Covid came along, old vintages were relatively inexpensive. My contribution to the tasting was a 1968 Barolo (see photo) which I had acquired through the online auction house Catawiki. These sorts of wines were very affordable no more than £20 or £30. Because of Covid and lockdowns, bidding has gone through the roof, propelling prices into the £100+ mark; sadly, they’re no longer such a bargain, particularly as the inherent risk of buying an over-the-hill dud remains.
We were very lucky with our tasting having no corked wines or duds. The old and delicious 1990 Andre Beaufort Champagnes proving how long-lived Champagnes can be. The 1952 Capellano Barbaresco and the 1968 Marchesi Barolo still showed some fruit and unlike the tasters not showing their age at all!
Most surprising of all was a white 1967 Batard Montrachet from Saccone and Speed. It was simply delicious. Who would have thought a white wine would still be so enjoyable after all these years!