OVER the past few weeks I’ve been inundated with questions from readers and video fans on questions related to drinking wines at home. As we’re all spending an inordinate amount of time at home, I thought this was the ideal time to address the subject.
Many wines make for fine lockdown drinking or post-lockdown celebration, but some wines deserve your attention more than others. In particular, this is the perfect time to drink up those older vintages you may have lying around. Based on recent queries, I’m amazed how many people have older vintage wines. It’s likely that these wines have been languishing at home for some time and unfortunately many have seen better days.
It’s always best to store wines in a wine cabinet or at very least in a cool and dark environment. Nonetheless, no matter how good your storage; every wine has an expiration date. The gross majority of all wines are best consumed within five years of their vintage. A small minority of the best whites and sparklers can be kept longer and will actually improve. Reds, because of the tannins they have that act as preservatives, are generally more age-worthy.
Many older wines stored in Shanghai homes are Bordeaux reds. Bordeaux was the first wine region to enjoy exponential success in China and it remains a favorite today. Fortunately, Bordeaux reds with their ample tannins tend to age quite well. But all Bordeaux wines are not created equal and depending on the chateau and the vintage they may be exceeding age-worthy or wines that should be consumed young. Here’s a simple guide.
Basic Bordeaux AOC wines should be consumed within five years of the vintage. Cru Bourgeois and 1855 Grand Cru Classe along with top Right bank Saint-Emilion and Pomerol reds can be cellared for over a decade or much longer depending on the wine and the vintage. If you have a 1855 Grand Cru Classe or top Cru Bourgeois that’s been well-stored and is 10 years or older, relax as there’s no rush to drink. On the other hand, should your wine be from a lesser vintage then now is the perfect time to drink up. Here’s a snapshot of Bordeaux vintages to hold and to drink now.
Since 2014, Bordeaux has had a fortuitous run of good to great vintages and if well-kept, most the wines should all still be drinkable. Top wines from these vintages may need more time. If you have wines from the 2013, 2012, 2008, 2007, 2004 and 2002 vintages, drink them. They won’t be getting any better and perhaps are already past their prime.
Top Bordeaux wines from the great vintages of the 1990s and 1980s; think 1995, 1990, 1989 and 1982 are still drinking beautifully now and may evolve for years to come. Inferior vintages of these decades may already be passé, but give them a try anyway as they may give you a pleasant surprise.
To be perfectly honest, because of questionable storage and vintage variation drinking older wines is frequently a crap shoot. You may experience a great and distinguished vino extraordinaire or get an insipid disaster. Therefore, it’s reassuring to know that one sub-region of Bordeaux is noted for its age-worthy wines.
Strewn with coastal lagoons, sand dunes, pine forests, vineyards and sheep, the Medoc region of Bordeaux is famous for two things: namely some of the world’s greatest wines and France’s finest lamb. I dearly love both.
The Medoc subregions of Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Estephe and Saint-Julien are home to all of the 1855 Grand Cru Classe wines, save for the great Chateau Haut-Briton, as well as some of the best Cru Bourgeois wines. Because of the strong contribution of Cabernet Sauvignon in many Medoc blends, these are also some of the world’s most age-worthy wines.
Famous 1855 Grand Cru Classe wines are prohibitively expensive but some good value, premium wines from Medoc wines still exist. This is especially true of Cru Borgeois wines. One of my favorites is Chateau Meyney, in most vintages a blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Merlot and 10 percent Petit Verdot. In particular, the higher-than-normal dosage of Petit Verdot gives this Saint-Estephe wine a robust and structured character that allows it to age for decades.
Other highly recommended age-worthy and reasonably-priced wines from Medoc are the chateaux Le Boscq, Reysson, Omes de Pez, Pontesac and Behere Courtin.
Not all mature red wines benefit from decanting. Some older wines may deteriorate quickly once exposed to oxygen and are best consumed soon after being opened. Regardless of your lockdown status, drinking a mature Bordeaux and reflecting on a more promising future is a perfect way to uplift your spirits.
A clear and present danger presented by wines from distant vintages is opening the bottle. Natural corks become more fragile as they age and may break or crumble when opening the wine. I’m fond of saying that opening a bottle of mature wine is analogous to riding a horse. First and foremost you must have confidence. Once you lose your nerve, bad things are sure to happen. Horses and corks alike keenly sense fear and timidity.
But fret not, a broken cork doesn’t mean a bad wine. All you have to do is patiently take the remnants of the cork out and if the cork pieces have fallen into the wine, use a fine kitchen sieve to filter out the cork bits. Your cork may look terrible but in most cases the wine will be just fine.
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