Harvey Norman Presents: Treasured Bottle of Wine
Not every wine is made as a ‘drink now’ proposition. Many of the great wines of the world are designed to develop with age and be enjoyed years, even decades in the future.
Wine lovers store these wines for many reasons – to keep for a special occasion such as an anniversary, as a gift for a treasured friend or as a birth wine for a newborn to later enjoy on their milestone birthday.
For those who truly love seeing wine develop over time to reach its full potential, cellaring a treasured bottle also offers reward for patience. Stored perfectly with considerations given to the perfect temperature, no direct light, no movement and constant humidity, a well-made wine that is designed to age will develop and mature to its peak. Opening and enjoying it is one of the profound pleasures of wine.
However, even some of the biggest names in the food and wine industry have tales of woe from not storing that treasured bottle correctly.
For instance, Neil McGuigan (pictured above), Chief Winemaker at McGuigan Wines.
“My greatest disappointment was a Magnum of ‘97 Wynns Michael Shiraz, which we opened up for our youngest’s 21st birthday recently and it was ‘yesterday’s wine’. I thought I had carefully stored it for 18 years, but alas, clearly I had not.
“It is the diurnal temperature change that makes the wine develop faster and then it becomes prematurely aged and ‘presto’; you are opening up a wine well after it has passed its peak. Not an enjoyable experience, and an expensive one!”
Fellow Hunter Valley winemaker Bruce Tyrrell has a similar story with a ‘wine treasure’ he thought he’d discovered.
“I found some early 60s Mildara Golden Bower ‘Riesling’ (probably Hunter Semillon) in an old house on a vineyard that we were buying grapes from,” he says. “Unfortunately the palate was completely oxidised and had gone to God. It was a great disappointment as we thought we had found something special. They’d been through lots of summers and winters with no insulation in the house.”
The lesson? You need to store your treasured bottle in ideal conditions. Once again, the keys are: temperature, light, vibration and humidity.
Of course, the great wines of the world have been stored for generations. In Europe, the traditional way has been in an underground cellar where it is 10-12 degrees all year round, dark and with high humidity. Alexandre Rougeot, sixth-generation owner of Domaine Rougeot, in Burgundy, was fortune enough to store an iconic 1959 La Tâche from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti this way. Cellared by his family for 37 years in their underground cellar, the La Tâche was opened in 1998 for a special old vintages wine dinner.
“It was one of the most magical wine experiences I ever had,” says Alexandre. “The fruit was still showing beautifully and tertiary flavours had developed over the years, showing a deep and complex nose. This bottle changed my wine appreciation for life. Most of my passion for wine has been triggered by this moment in time. It would have not been the same if the bottle was only a few years old. Cellaring is key to opening a new world of flavours and emotions in the glass.”
Josef Chromy winemaker Jeremy Dineen also had a life changing moment with a wine that had been cellared perfectly – a 1979 Pommery Cuvée Louise Champagne.
“The wine had been stored in an underground cellar in a ski resort at a very constant low temperature for years, I opened it with some friends at Christmas about five years ago,” recalls Jeremy. “While most of the effervescence had dissipated, the wine was deliciously rich and complex. Just amazing.”
Wolf Blass Chief Winemaker Chris Hatcher was also lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of good cellaring with the famous Wolf Blass Black Label 1973, the first Wolf Blass wine to win the Jimmy Watson Trophy. Carefully stored in the cool museum cellar at the Wolf Blass winery since it was bottled in 1975, the wine was opened for a 40th vintage Black Label retrospective tasting.
“It was a delight with all critics agreeing it was the wine of the tasting,’ says Chris. “It had wonderful jubey fruit, and a soft, flavoursome palate; it had developed into something really special after 40 years.”
Modern day wine storage
So, it appears careful cellaring is key to ageing wines properly. But what if you don’t have access to an underground or museum cellar?
At one of Australia’s most iconic wineries, Penfold’s, they use Vintec wine cabinets. A whole wall of them.
One of Australia’s most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs Neil Perry, also relies on wine cabinets to keep his wine treasures developing in pristine condition both at home and in his restaurants.
“Drinking great wine is one of my passions,” says Neil. “I’ve been collecting wines for over 20 years and I’ve had Vintec that whole time, ever since they first came to the country and I have a number of Vintec cabinets in my cellar at home.”
For his 61st birthday, Neil celebrated by opening up some truly special bottles of wine he’d had cellared for years, and happily all of them were near perfection.
“On my birthday, we had 1991 J.J. Prüm Riesling that I’d cellared for a long time, a Chateau d’Yquem 81 that I’d had for ages, a 61 Cos d’Estournel and an 88 Guigal, one of the La La’s, which was just a beautiful wine. I also opened a bottle of 1997 Grosset Riesling Polish Hill, which was super extraordinary, it had another dimension with that age. But I’d have to say the Prüm was the wine of the night, it was off the charts.”
A wine for the ages
Once you’ve got your cellaring organised, you’ll want to start filling your wine cabinet with those treasured bottles that will age and develop delicious secondary and even tertiary flavours and characters. But which wines age? And for how long?
White wine is a good place to start because, generally, most are made to drink now, or at least within a year or two. The exceptions to this rule are: Riesling, which can be enjoyed now but is just a beguiling beauty at 10 to 15 years; Chardonnay, particularly if it’s had some oak treatment; and Hunter Valley Semillon, which is considered by critics to be Australia’s gift to the wine world, developing in the bottle to emerge with mouth-watering honey, toasty characters around 10-12 years of age.
While acidity is the key factor for whites to age, in red wines it is primarily about tannins. A naturally occurring compound that is found in grape skins, seeds and stems, as well as the oak barrels used to age wine, tannins and colour are imparted into red wine during fermentation.
Different grape varietals have thicker skins and stalks therefore bigger tannins, or the fermenting wine could be left in contact with the skins and stems longer and can, theoretically, age longer.
We say theoretically, because a poorly made wine, or wine from a less than average vintage, is not going to get better, no matter how long you cellar it.
But, for well-made reds with fruit, acid and tannin in balance, a brief cellaring list looks like this: lighter bodied wines such as Pinot Noir and Grenache need only about five years careful cellaring. Medium-bodied reds such as Merlot, Sangiovese and Tempranillo age for about five to 10 years, while full-bodied reds can age gracefully longer, Shiraz and Nebbiolo 20+ years, while Cabernet can age up to 25 years and beyond.
Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to start building your cellar, enjoying those ‘drink now’ wines and putting those treasured bottles of wine away for that special occasion in the future. Just ensure they are cellared correctly so the glorious occasion of opening an aged wine is a tale of joy.
Harvey Norman are the trusted experts in wine storage. They have a huge range of wine cabinets and friendly educated staff to help find the best model to suit your needs. For details visit hn.com.au/brands/vintec