Questions / answers: Introducing you to ancient wines, such is the delicate mission of this page... Specialists you will be at the end of this reading!
What is an "old" wine?
We will define an "old" wine as a wine which, due to its age, no longer presents the aromatic characteristics that it had during its first years of life and which clearly develops so-called "tertiary" aromas (leather, candied fruit for the reds, nutty notes for the whites, etc.).
You immediately understood that an "old" rosé or white wine will be so much more quickly than a red, sweet wine or a natural sweet wine...
The appellation plays a very important role, a Beaujolais ages faster than a Grand Cru from Bordeaux...
Pouilly-fumé: from 10/12 years old
Saint-Émilion: from 20/25 years old
Sauternes: from 30/40 years
Why buying an old wine ?
Celebrate the birthday of a loved one, offer an original gift, discover new taste sensations, compare the evolution of different appellations, share unforgettable moments with friends...
There are plenty of opportunities to buy and taste old wines...
Which wine to buy?
It is necessary to adapt the purchase of an old wine according to the occasion:
For a birthday, a wine from the year of birth of the lucky beneficiary will be the optimal proposal.
To celebrate an event such as the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, a wine from 1924 could be particularly welcome...
You can also imagine themed tastings: taste several different years of wines from the same estate, the same region or appellation, compare the evolution of a grape variety...
In any case, you will not come out unscathed from such an experience!!
Where to buy an old wine?
Since you are reading these lines, it is with ineffable joy and inexpressible certainty that I am pleased to announce that you are on the "right" site...
From 1904 to 2015, with more than 90 different vintages of wines from more than 200 French appellations and 40 countries, I offer you a unique palette in the world!
And, icing on the cake, I myself am a passionate amateur of old wines, ready to advise you for the pure pleasure of the exchange!
Some advice to buy an old wine:
Assuming the wine is meant to be drunk, it is important to keep the following tips in mind:
1. Choose a wine that has a good level in the bottle. Over the years the wine tends to filter slowly through the cork, even if the cellar is good and the temperature stable.
A good level wine will taste better than a lower level wine.
The ideal is to choose a bottle in which the level of the wine is at the level of the bottom of the neck, but this condition is difficult to fulfill for wines over 40 years old...
2. Choose a wine that is not "cloudy", even a very old wine must remain fairly clear. On the other hand, the presence of deposit in the bottom of the bottle can be considered as "normal".
3. For "dry" white wines, choose a bottle with the clearest possible wine, the presence of oxidation being characterized by a darker color and very strong and particular aromas that can harmonize with an old county, for example, but which can also confuse.
How to keep an old wine?
The following tips that you will find everywhere are absolutely correct for storing old (or new!) bottles:
horizontally, in a dark, quiet place, sheltered from vibrations, at a relatively stable temperature, if possible close to 13°, and with sufficient humidity (around 60%/70%), if possible in their box in drink.
If you cannot meet all these conditions: the most critical are the position which must be horizontal and the absence of light!
In the absence of a basement, an electric cellar is able to meet the needs of the majority of amateurs...
Warning: it is preferable to store spirits upright (risk that the spirit "attacks" the cork of the stopper).
How to open an old bottle of wine
Serious business begins...
First of all, store the bottle vertically 3 days before opening, this to prevent any deposit from mixing with the wine at the time of handling.
First cut the capsule and wipe with a damp cloth the top of the neck and the cap.
It is "normal" for an old cork to be moldy.
Then I usually use a bladed corkscrew:
By pushing the blades between the cork and the glass of the neck and turning, first without lifting, you take off the cork from the neck of the bottle and then, while turning, you have to try to gently remove the cork.
Twenty rounds are sometimes necessary.
Tip: to prevent the cork from sinking when inserting this tool (this can happen with corks over 40 years old), you can wedge a knife diagonally in the cork against the neck of the bottle during the insertion of the tool, it will lock the plug.
It is quite common for the corks to break into several pieces and require a shellfish pick to extract the remains.
Once the cork is removed, leave the bottle in a cool room (15/16° for a red wine) or in the refrigerator for a white or sweet wine and serve at least 3 or 4 hours after opening, without decanting, the a sudden supply of oxygen could damage it.
I have planned a blog post on this subject and I will put explanatory photos as well as other possible methods.
The attached photos show the (difficult) opening of a 1982 Châteauneuf du Pape, I had to repeat the maneuver 4 times!!!
Quite average quality cork, but the tasting was great: superb jammy and liquorice notes!!
How to serve an old bottle of wine?
It is advisable to delicately handle the old bottles which can present a deposit.
Red wines will be served at around 15/16°, which, in a room at 20°, will allow them to rise in temperature slowly.
Both dry and sweet white wines, as well as Champagnes, will be served at 12/13°, which will give the aromas the opportunity to flourish...
A serving temperature that is too cold masks the qualities of these wines and reduces them to the status of "refreshing drinks", which they are not.
I advise you to use closeable glasses, like the one in the photo on the left and to fill about a fifth of the height.
A specific blog post will detail all this!
It's your turn...
What to expect from tasting an old wine?
That's a great question...
You will find below some general information about the tastings of old wines.
As they age, red wines can take on a brick or even orange color.
Their aromas will lose the freshness of fresh fruit and tend towards candied red or black fruit, the tannins will soften and notes of leather and meat, chocolate or liquorice will appear.
With even more years touches of tobacco and smoke will be easily detectable.
Nevertheless, some Burgundies will retain their delicious redcurrant aromas for more than 50 years...
The concentration and length in the mouth will tend to be maintained.
Dry white wines:
As they age, white wines will see their color become more and more golden.
Their aromas will lose the freshness of fresh fruits and tend towards white fruits (walnuts, hazelnuts), notes of honey can also be felt.
The wine may also seem "fatter" than when it was young.
Sweet white wines:
Sweet white wines are an ideal choice to learn about tasting old wines while taking the minimum risk, their longevity is amazing!
Their aromas will tend towards quince, caramel and candied apricot while keeping a nice acidity.
The color of the older ones can become almost mahogany, a treat for the eyes as well as for the mouth!
Champagnes and sparkling wines:
Beyond 20 years of age, sparkling wines will gradually lose their bubbles, but can retain traces of fine bubbles for another 20/30 years.
Their aromas will tend towards those of old white wines of the same grape variety but the evolution will be slower, slowed down by the carbon dioxide which must first escape from the bottle before giving way to air.
Let's be clear, the majority of rosé wines are not intended to be kept for more than a year or two.
Nevertheless, I have excellent memories of very old rosé wines which were not only "drinkable" but gave immense pleasure...
Lung (Algeria) 1942, Tavel and Alsace from the 50s and even a Sancerre 1979...
They knew how to keep a great freshness, their aromas tending towards those of old light red wines.
Why do some old bottles look too new?
It is quite common to find old bottles with labels that seem "too beautiful", why so???
You should know that not all of them come from dusty private cellars, some come from the stock of merchants who have closed shop and who resell (or their heirs) the remainders, sometimes 20/30 years later, the bottles having been kept in their cases. in wood or original cartons.
On the other hand, many estates, particularly in Bordeaux, keep stocks of very old bottles for a long time and put them on sale late.
As the bottles are stored without labels or caps, these are ordered and manufactured at the time of sale and generally appear "like new" and can therefore be questioned...
Château Soutard (Saint-Émilion) put on sale at the end of 2018 several hundred half-bottles from the years 1976 to 1993, the original corks have been kept but the capsules and labels date from 2018 so look perfectly "new" (see photo on the left, the cap is original, it can be seen without discussion...)
Château Lanessan (Médoc) put on sale in 2011 a hundred bottles of the 1911 vintage. The levels had been redone, the corks changed, and the labels and caps had been created especially for the occasion. I'm lucky enough to be able to taste one with friends...
The Loire winegrowers are also champions for selling wines that are 50 years old and over, I was able to find a white from 1933 recently.
The current record comes, to my knowledge, from Rivesaltes Château Sisqueille 1874, bottled in half bottles in 2012 or 2013...
I also photographed on the left below a 1970 Lalande de Pomerol and the box from which it was taken after 50 years of storage, the 12 bottles were "like new".