Question from Lindsay: What is a vintage red?
Reply: Hi, Lindsay. Thanks for writing! I love this kind of question because I know that half of the wine-drinking population probably has the same one.
“A Vintage Wine”: You hear that phrase in the movies, but it’s never been entirely clear to me what is meant. You assume it must be good, right? The speaker might mean that it’s a very good vintage of a fine brand or type. Or, like vintage clothing, it may refer to a fine, older vintage. Maybe both. No wonder everyone’s confused.
In the real world, there are different ways to interpret your question, so let’s start with the most common thing you see when you shop for wine, and that’s the vintage date.
Vintage Date: The vintage date on the label doesn’t mean it’s a good vintage, it’s simply identifying what year the grapes were grown and harvested (harvest is only once a year so it’s a big deal). The wine’s structure and flavor reflects the weather patterns during the growing season, for better or for worse. A warm year produces ripe, fruity flavors and soft acidity (less tartness). A cool growing season makes for a tarter wine that may not be as fruity. The fruitiness is often replaced by herbal, vegetative and/or mineral-like flavors and aromas. So, any wine – a white, red or rosé can have a vintage date. The only way for you to know if it’s a good vintage is to do a search or ask your retailer. Continue reading
And, the winner is… “The older the better.” This myth crops up over and over, all the time, and it’s not a good thing because for the vast majority of wines made, world wide, the opposite is true.
When in doubt, down the hatch!
Forget about aging value wines. I know someone is going to write me back citing their favorite value red that’s always nicer with age, but let’s go with the big picture here. Generally speaking, these wines are made for immediate consumption and won’t hold up for more that two to four years. Especially whites and rosé wines. In most cases, the younger the better.
This means, when you see white wine in the sale bin, it may not be such a bargain. Not if you end up dumping it down the drain instead of drinking it.
And, in the world of fine wine, there are still more wines that don’t improve with age than those that do.
So, which wines to age? Continue reading
Question from Jessica: I got a really nice bottle of Champagne from a friend. Do I need to age it?
What a lovely dilemma you have! The producers will always tell you to drink it right away because it encourages sales. And, that’s fair enough because sparklers are very reliably enjoyable on release. But – if you have a really nice bottle, aging can add to the wine’s complexity.
Here’s how to sort it out:
The least expensive Champagnes don’t have a vintage date. But that doesn’t mean it’s not any good. These wines bring several vintages together to give the producer a consistent house style. The great thing about non-vintage Champagne is that the blend includes some older wine, which certainly adds to complexity. These wines have to be bottle aged a minimum of eighteen months at the winery and it’s fine to keep them for up to five years. The wine might not be quite as fizzy down the road, but the compensation is added complexity.
Vintage Champagne is only from the best vintages and has to be bottle aged at least three years at the winery and can continue to improve in the bottle for up to as much as 20 years, especially if it’s a Blanc de Blancs. The same thing applies to what are called Prestige Cuvé
es – wines with special names like Dom Perignon or La Grande Dame. Some sommeliers feel that these wines don’t even come into their own for about 10 years.
The flavors deepen with age but, as I said, the effervescence will become more subtle. I remember talking with Hugh Davies, the owner of Schramsberg
here in the Napa Valley. He recalled that his mom liked to drink 20 and 30 year old Shramsberg just for the flavors and in that case she drank it out of a wine glass rather than a Champagne flute to get the best of the flavors. So, as with so many other things in wine, the decision on when to drink it depends upon your personal taste.
But – when in doubt, down the hatch! Cheers!
Photo: Eric Magnuson on Flickr CC