Keeping wine too long


I was disappointed the other day when opening a bottle of German white which I'd kept from 1986 until 2005. It was of "Kabinett" quality, from Lorch, in the Rheingau. At its peak this wine was outstanding; a petrolly, fruity, honeyed bouquet and a wonderful flavour.

I carefully decanted it (surprisingly, there was quite a lot of sediment), washed out the bottle, poured the wine back, and tried a small glass. It was golden yellow and smelt peculiar - almost like sherry. It was almost undrinkable. There was no way I could give it to my guests.

To minimise the damage, I poured it into the decanter again and back into the bottle, to let in some air, and left it overnight. The peculiar aroma was still there, but weaker.

I left it for a further five days on a cold stone floor, and by this time the odd aroma had almost diappeared, and some bouquet had returned. You could tell how good this wine would have been if it had been used at the right time. I was reminded of what an old friend told me - when opening a really good wine, it often improves after opening for as many days as its age in years. But there was no disguising that it would have been better to drink this one too young than too late.

After another five days, the wine was almost back to normal. Not quite, but very good nevertheless.

Here's what others have said. Look at their websites for more information; their articles on this topic are excellent.

Lake Ridge winery, Florida (www.lakeridgewinery.com)
All wines, if properly stored, tend to improve somewhat with age. But there is too much emphasis placed on ageing wine. Every wine has its natural life span: it improves during youth, reaches its prime, and declines in old age. 75 percent of the wine produced in the world is as good when a year old as it is ever likely to be and will only deteriorate after its third birthday. A light, fresh style does not require aging.

Some wines need no ageing, and are ready to drink when sold. Others gain from a few months in bottle; but both rapidly lose freshness if kept in bottle too long. It is useful to know how a given wine has been matured; for instance, some Spanish and Italian wines are matured for long periods in cask and bottled when virtually ready to drink.

Techniques in vinification have changed enormously in the last fifteen years. It can be very depressing to drink a wine which has been kept too long, and we have always believed that it is better to drink a wine a little too young and allow it to develop in the glass, rather than keep it in the hope that it might be better later.

....we are also concerned that some of our customers are keeping their White Burgundies far too long...

Corney and Barrow (www.corneyandbarrow.com)
......whilst many reds appear to improve we would caution customers about keeping white wines for longer than three to four years from the vintage date.....

.....a flaw in conventional white wines.... air oxidizes alcohol to ethanal..... the wine goes from pale to golden yellow and develops a taste which many find "odd". You can usually tell this without uncorking, since most white wine bottles are clear glass, and the color reveals that you held that white wine too long....

Robin Garr of www.wineloverspage.com:
The quality of a wine (table wine, quality wine, Kabinett, Prädikat) significantly influences its ageing potential. Wines with a relatively high amount of acidity, alcohol and fruit extract can be cellared for longer than simpler, lighter wines with less acidity, which will lose their freshness and raciness, and at times even their varietal character if they are laid down for too long.

Like everything else, wine has a finite lifespan. Mature wine is a delight. Wine held too long is wasted. It is a shame to devote years of effort to cellaring only to have your wine die in the bottle because you didn't enjoy it when it was ready.

Oz Clarke:
.... I would go down to my little cellar beneath the stairs to haul out a bottle of what we all thought would be some long-forgotten treasure but to our great disappointment time after time these wines would be long past their best. There is no sadder moment than to present such a wine to a throng of friends who have been hearing about its magical qualities for year upon year. To have kept a bottle too long is far worse than to have drunk it before its time.

Compiled by N.D., Diversity website

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