Old wines can be full of surprises

Last weekend I was tidying my cellar '“ yes I'm lucky enough to have one!

Friday, 21st October 2016, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 6:01 am
A 39-year-old Austrian Moser

Twenty years ago when we were moving, it was a prime requirement, due to the industry in which I work. I basically was looking for a cellar with a house attached.

During my tidying, I came across a few old bottles which had been rather neglected for rather a long time. This brought me back to the vexed question of ‘How long do you keep a wine?’ or indeed ‘How long will a Wine Keep?’

There is, of course, no easy answer since there are so many different wines available from across the globe. It is further complicated by changes which are constantly occurring in both wine-making and in consumer desires or expectations, led to some extent by fashion. A few years ago, I would never have dreamed of opening a bottle of red Bordeaux until it was at least three years old, even for a ‘petit chateau’ wine at the more affordable end of the price spectrum. Last week, however, I enjoyed a bottle of red Bordeaux AC from 2015 – barely a year old, since the wine was still fermenting in October of that year. It was a fruity style with low tannins but plenty of body, specifically made to be drunk young, since there is demand for this style of wine.

In terms of dry white wines, my general rule of thumb is the same as with rosé – the younger the better. There are some exceptions to this, particularly concerning the more expensive end of Burgundy and Bordeaux and also with a number of high quality Chardonnays. But for ‘everyday’ drinking, dry whites need to be fresh and crisp in order to appreciate the fruit character and the aromas. From the southern hemisphere, such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I am already seeking out the 2016 vintage which is starting to be available.

Sometimes, if you are lucky, some very old bottles can be quite surprising and immensely enjoyable. And sometimes they are disappointing, fit only for adding to your salad dressing. During my cellar sort-out, I retrieved one such old bottle and decided to see if it was still drinkable. It was a 1977 Gewurztraminer Beerenauslese from Austria, a sweet white wine made by Lenz Moser. Having cleaned off 39 years of dust and cobwebs, I set about pulling the cork. This, unfortunately, is one of the problems of old wines – the wine may last but often the corks don’t. This one crumbled to pieces and went in instead of out. Setting to with a fine sieve, I poured a glass. The colour was a deep tawny and the aromas were of dried fruits, figs, toffee and…...Madeira. Over this long time, the wine had been transformed into something completely different from the original. It was truly maderised and very reminiscent of a Bual Madeira.

The sweetness had dried out a little, and there was no discernible trace of the Gewurztraminer grape variety. It was medium sweet, but with outstanding depth and complexity of flavour. Its longevity had been helped by the fact that it was made by a top quality Austrian producer and had started off with high levels of both acidity and residual sweetness.

At 39 years old it was a wonderful and unusual surprise. A great accompaniment to free-range roast guinea fowl with Agen prunes and butternut squash.