The answer to whether a wine should be aged and which wines go over the distance was the subject of my most recent extensive research project.
How long a wine should stay in the cellar, cupboard or wine cooler is a matter of taste. And of course there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this eternal question.
I am aware that every wine has changed over time since it was first tasted in its youth. The successful maturation of a wine depends on the information provided by your winery candidate. Is the wine what you prefer to drink? Is it balanced and does the “cellar” have a cool, even temperature?
Did you know that most wines, both red and white, are consumed within a year of purchase? Some of these wines can be cellar candidates.
Reds, best consumed five to 15 years after the vintage, can include most Syrah, Malbec, Zins, and Cab Francs. Red wines that can mature for 10 years or more include blends and individual grape varieties of Cabernet, Merlots, Nebbiolo, Tempranillos, and Sangioveses.
Just like the components that preserve fruits and vegetables, sugar, acid, and alcohol are important in aging wine. In a sweet wine, a high sugar content guarantees a long life, free of impurities that could infect it. This is one of the reasons a sweet wine can gracefully mature for a few decades without any problems. There are also fortified sweet wines such as port, Madeira and sherry, which mature gracefully for decades due to the high residual sugar and alcohol content. (Note that honey pots were found in King Tut’s tomb)
Then there is the other harmonizing side of sweetness – the acidity. Wine contains many acids, the most important of which are tannic, tartaric, lactic and malic acids. Wines with high acidity are stable because the high acidity, similar to a glass of Dilly Beans, repels bacteria.
This is how a wine could develop pleasantly. But why do wine age? Wine is a living thing. Aged wine develops beautiful aromas, grace and a very long finish. While it rests in your basement, it is constantly changing, albeit slowly. Tannic acid and fruitiness evaporate with age.
At some outdoor parties this summer, wines from the cellar decorated the table. Collecting data on the aging of wine is a fun project.
A long weekend birthday party for a wine buddy was a new occasion to get some special bottles from the cellar. Good food, great wine, and wonderful, vaccinated friends always make the celebration.
We started on Wednesday evening – an aperitif for the weekend. My wine buddy went down to the cellar to get a bottle of wine. His choice fell on a Leonetti Cellar Seven Hill Vineyard Reserve Cabernet. The aroma of this 1987 was lovely. The wine was amazing for its age. Winner!
We also enjoyed Long Shadows 2009 Pedestal Merlot from French winemaker Michel Rolland with Red Mountain Merlot mixed with a dollop of Cab and a dash of Malbec. A plush and polished Merlot style wine on the right bank, the touch of heat in this 12 year old messed up the balance a little. We weren’t put off, but drinking is now the consensus.
Thursday was the research with the party preparation team. Freshly cut tomatoes sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and a pinch of pepper were the perfect accompaniment to Franco Serra Barbera d’Asti and Ca’Gialla Barbera d’Alba, both from the 2019 vintage. One of my absolute favorite games this time of the year.
We also ate cheeseburgers while enjoying leftovers from two 2011’s from the Iberian Peninsula. The Quinta Da Fronteira is a dry red wine blend made from Touriga Nacional, Toriga Franco and Tinta Roriz from Portugal. These are the same grapes that Porto is only made from in a dry red wine. It could have stayed in the basement for another five years. Instead, I drank it for three days. It was best after the third day of opening.
From Spain we really enjoyed the Almodi Petit from Terra Alta DOP in Catalonia, Spain. This wine was an absolutely perfect blend of Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Samso. Carignan is known as Samso in Terra Alta. I wish I had dropped a case.
For the festival on Friday evening, the focus was on Italian Chicago-style beef sandwiches. Other potluck dishes included mac and cheese with hatch chillies, hot crab dip, grilled shrimp, maque choux, potato salad and, for dessert, chocolate and cherry tea cakes with ice cream.
More bottles from the cellar were broken into. A screw cap Losen-Bockstanz 2012 Riesling Kabinett from the Moselle was a splendor. The delicious acidity and full-bodied wine went well with crabs and prawns. Just like the Firestone Santa Ynez 2016 Riesling.
Nothing too old for the main course for the heat on the plate. A trio of Washington wines were served. Mosquito Fleet’s Walla Walla Cabernet 2017, Fletcher Bay’s 2015 Walla Walla Cabernet and Seven Hills 2017 Walla Walla Merlot.
Fletcher Bay’s award-winning 2015 is now a more expensive library wine and was purchased at a Wine on the Rock event a few years ago. The 2015 vintage was a hot summer and so this full-bodied wine with ripe red fruit aromas and a hint of tannins was at its peak.
Fairly balanced, but at 14.8 vol it was the perfect time to drink. Experience has taught me that as the fruit and tannins fade over time, the alcohol becomes apparent. It’s delicious now.
The 2017 vintage started off cool with a hot summer and then more moderate weather during the harvest. The 2017 Cabernet from Mosquito Fleet is sourced from the renowned Pepper Bridge Vineyard in Walla Walla AVA. The wine is beautiful now and would gracefully mature for another three to five years.
Seven Hills Winery was founded in 1988 and their Founding Vineyards, planted in the 1980s, are well established and highly sought after. His 2017 Walla Walla Merlot is an elegant expression of one of the oldest vineyards in Walla Walla AVA. I could watch this wine mature in my cellar for a few more years if I could keep my hands off it!
Thank you very much!
Mary Earl has been training Kitsap wine lovers for several decades, is a long-time member of the West Sound Brew Club and can combine a beer or wine dinner in no time at all. She is a volunteer for the Clear Creek Trail, is a member of the Central Kitsap Community Council, and a long-time Silverdale supporter.