Finding the Perfect Time to Open Aged Wine

As featured in  Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Finding the Perfect Time to Open Aged Wine

Wine bottle with two glasses

Recently, I had the pleasure of sampling a current vintage 100-point super Tuscan with a group of colleagues to celebrate a special occasion. While this iconic wine was extremely complex, focused and intense, it wasn’t really “drinking well.” Granted, it needed time to open up and perhaps a side of beef to pair with, but the consensus was that it wasn’t the earth-shattering experience the group had anticipated.

The following Sunday, I dug deep in my cellar to find a 1989 Clos des Jacobins Saint-Émilion Grand Cru that received a 90-point score in 1999. It had been stored properly for the last two decades, so I figured this was a perfect time to open it up.

I seemed to have caught it in its peak stage when it wasn’t just drinking well, it was drinking perfectly.  

It was slightly muted at first, but when it came to life, it displayed intense dried red fruit, fig, raisin, smoked chestnuts, tobacco leaf and forest floor on the nose and palate. The acidity was still kicking, and the tannins were supple and polished. Luckily enough, my pops and I seemed to have caught it in its peak stage when it wasn’t just drinking well, it was drinking perfectly.

As I sipped, I reminisced about that vintage of 1989, my sophomore year in high school. Visions of shredding away on my Gibson Les Paul came to mind, as well as the early stages of my high school golf career, summers working at camp and figuring out how to attract the opposite sex without making a complete fool of myself. My pops and I agreed that spending a quiet afternoon over a perfectly aged bottle of Bordeaux was exactly what we needed.

It wasn’t that the Saint-Émilion Grand Cru was necessarily a better wine than the young super Tuscan. In that moment, however, it was drinking better in its life cycle. But also, with its sophistication and wisdom, it opened a gateway for a little nostalgia and a walk down memory lane as only a perfectly aged bottle of wine can do.

Aerator vs Decanter: Which is Better?

As seen on Wine Enthusiast  www.winemag.com

While the premise behind aerating and decanting wine is quite similar, there are some notable differences between the two.

The goal of both is to aerate the wine—that is, to increase its exposure to oxygen. When you expand the surface area of the wine, you increase how much of it is contact with air. This allows the wine to more quickly develop intense aromas and flavors.

But the process isn’t guaranteed magic. Aerating a basic Pinot Grigio will not turn it into a perfectly aged Montrachet. The process of aeration, or limited oxidation, simply allows the potential complexities and nuances of a wine to emerge a bit faster.

vinOair Wine Aerator

So, what’s the difference between aerating and decanting? Let’s start with aerators. Typically, these are small devices that are either placed in or on the bottle or held by hand. Some variations introduce air into the device that the wine travels through, while others disperse the pour through various spouts. However, all serve to increase the wine’s exposure to air while it’s poured.

These low-profile aerators are ideal for young, opulent and tannic reds that may be a bit muted (closed) immediately upon opening a bottle, or whose tannins can overpower the balance of the wine. One of the main functions of aeration is to soften tannins, which allows the fruit and acid to shine through. Just about every wine will benefit from a bit of aeration.

Quick Wine Tip

Aerator: Use on young wines, particularly big, bold and tannic reds.

Decanter: Use on older wines and more delicate bottlings.

However, most aerators won’t address sediment found in some wine. As a refresher, sediment is the grainy buildup of solids in wine that often derives from fermentation and leftover yeast (lees). For most young wines, sediment is a non-issue, but it’s often present in older bottles.

Sediment can also clog some aerators. This can affect the flow of wine and potentially create a messy and unfortunate overflow situation.

Top view of decanter and wineglass with red wine on the wooden table
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Therefore, a decanter is usually the preferred method to aerate older wines from the cellar. When poured slowly and properly, most of the wine’s sediment can be kept in the bottle. This is why many sommeliers use a candle or flashlight to illuminate the glass while pouring, so they can stop pouring once the sediment reaches the neck. This way, you’re sure to only be sipping on fine wine and not choking on grainy, solid sediment.

The art of decanting wine is a time-honored tradition. To watch the ritual of an aged Burgundy as it falls mesmerizingly into a beautifully crafted crystal decanter adds to its enjoyment.

So, to recap, the rule of thumb is simple. For young, big, bold and tannic wines, an aerator will do the trick. But for older, more delicate and fragile selections, grab a decanter and proceed with caution, as those wines may need a little extra care.

Pro tip: For young wines that need as much oxygen as they can get, double up and aerate the wine right into the decanter. Trust us, it really works.

Published on July 2, 2019
TOPICS:Wine Basics
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

How to Know Who is Wine Worthy?

 

When to Open That Special Bottle 

(as featured in Wine Enthsuiast)
You know the bottles. They’ve been sitting in your wine fridge for a few years now, waiting for the perfect night and the perfect audience.

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It’s always tempting to open up those special bottles when in good company of family and friends, particularly when a wonderfully delectable dish is included. However, deciding when to pull gems from the cellar can be one of the most agonizing decisions to make—especially if you have already had a glass or two and are being egged on by your pals.

Even though you may love the people surrounding you, are they truly going to appreciate what you are about to open? Has everyone already had too many glasses pass their palate to accurately assess the true quality of your potentially stellar selection? Are there simply too many people for anyone to get more than a drop or two of this high quality, highly-anticipated juice? These are the questions that need to be addressed and answered, under potentially stressful time constraints, before you pop open that vintage bottle you’ve been saving for just the right moment.

Here are a few rules of thumb to help guide you into making the right wine service decision, and avoiding the regret of opening something spectacular you later wish you hadn’t.

The smaller the group, the better.

When there are too many people, inevitably someone will not get a chance to taste the opened bottle and you will probably hear about it for months to come. Generally speaking for a single standard bottle, if there are any more than six people, you may want to save it for a more intimate gathering.

Know your audience.

If more than half of the group are really going to appreciate and enjoy something special, then pop the cork. Who knows, you may enlighten someone with an epiphany wine experience.

Keep food pairing in mind.

Having the perfect food pairing may not be totally necessary for the enjoyment of a high-quality bottle. However, having a terrible pairing, like a wonderfully aged Bordeaux with oysters, can certainly hinder a potentially memorable wine drinking experience.

Do it early in the night.

Taste buds tend to get a little tired as an evening of wine tasting progresses, rendering that glorious bottle mundane if it’s not one of the first poured. Plus, the more that your crew tends to consume, the less likely they are to get properly geeky about all of the intricacies of something that deserves a little more attention.

Be selfish.

Sometimes you just want to open a phenomenal wine because you feel like it. In those cases, forget about any of these suggestions and just crack it open! Sometimes life is too short to not drink your best wine.

Published on December 20, 2018
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

How to Select the Right Wine Glass

As featured on Wine Enthusiast  How To Select the Right Wine Glass

There are just as many wine glasses shapes out there as there are wines. Here are some hints on how to select the right glass to enhance your pour.

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Over the last decade or so, an abundance of wine glass shapes have hit the scene that range from basic and inexpensive to elaborate and exorbitant. While there are still variety-specific options for stemware (Cabernet Sauvignon/BordeauxPinot Noir/BurgundyChardonnay, etc.), universal glasses seek to become the perfect choice for every wine style.

Size Matters

Whether your wine is red, white, rosé, sparkling or fortified, aromas play a pivotal role in its overall character. The smaller the bowl, the harder it is for all of those aromas to escape. Larger bowls allow for more oxygen to come in contact with the wine. They also lend themselves towards an easier swirl, which not only looks cool, when executed properly, will aerate the wine and help it open up.

Variety Specific vs. Simple Red or White

Over the last century, glasses have been designed for just about every major grape variety. Each wine style has specific characters in terms of acidity, fruit expression, tannin and alcohol, and the different glass shapes intensify or mellow those attributes. If your goal is to build a stellar collection, this is a fun route to travel. However, you can stick with a standard Cabernet, or red, wine glass for all red wines, and a Chardonnay glass for white wines, and not lose out on the intricacies of the wine. If you seek variety-specific glasses, here’s the nitty gritty for those stems.

image of eight different wine glass shapes
Illustration by Julia Lea

Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux

Your traditional red wine glass. Cabs and Bordeaux tend to be high in alcohol and tannin. A larger bowl with more height creates more distance between the wine and the drinker, causing ethanol to dissipate on the nose and allowing more oxygen to encourage tannins to soften.

Syrah/Shiraz

Slightly taller than the Cab glass and with a slight taper at the top, this glass is designed to focus the fruit and allow plenty of aeration to mellow tannins in these massive red wines.

Pinot Noir/Burgundy

The extremely wide bowl and tapered rim allows plenty of aeration, concentrates delicate aromas and showcases the bright, rich fruit.

Chardonnay/Viognier

Your traditional white wine glass. It’s meant for young, fresh wines, as the slightly narrow rim concentrates the nose of highly aromatic white wines. The smaller bowl size also keeps white wine colder than the large bowls used for reds.

White Burgundy

Similar in shape to the Pinot Noir glass just smaller in scale, the wide bowl and narrow rim concentrates aromas and achieves maximum aeration on creamy white wines to reveal subtle complexities and offset rich fruit concentration. This glass is often confused with the Chardonnay glass.

Sparkling

The Champagne flute is all about the bubbles. It keeps the fruit and potential yeasty aromas focused with its narrow design, but also allows the effervescence to remain fresh and flow longer.

Fortified

These wines are higher in alcohol than still bottlings. A smaller bowl reduces alcohol evaporation and highlights their rich fruit and complex aromas.

Wine glasses on an orange background
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Stemless vs. Stems

While stemless glasses can be excellent options for everyday enjoyment, they may not be the best option for sipping higher-quality wines. They force users to grasp its bowl, rather than a stem or base, causing the wine’s temperature to rise due to heat from the hand. It’s not a huge disaster for reds, but can be for white wines. Fingerprints and smudge marks are also inevitable with stemless glassware.

Thin is In

The latest trend in stemware is a super-light, thin stem and lip of the glass. These elegant collections, like Zalto and Zenology, can feel like you’re barely holding a glass at all. Tasting rooms and top wine restaurants offer their finest wines in this style of glassware. However, they are as delicate as they are refined. If broken wine glasses are an epidemic in your home, you may need something a little more substantial, like Riedel or Fusion.

Ditch the Flute

Sparkling wine, particularly Prosecco, is now consumed more than ever. But wine lovers enjoy the aromas that pop out of the glass, which can be muted with the traditional, narrow Champagne flute. Though to toast with a flute is always popular, a white wine or universal glass is often the better option. If you search for a happy middle ground, a coupe or tulip-shaped Champagne glass allows bubbles to flow a bit longer than the typical wine glass, which enable more of the intense aromas to shine.

One Glass For All

If you don’t want to choose which glass goes with which wine, then the universal glass is the way to go. Sized somewhere in between a Chardonnay and a smaller red glass, it’s the most versatile option to enjoy all of your favorite wines, including sparkling! Growing in popularity, just about every glass collection offers a universal option.

Published on October 30, 2018
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

Sometimes the Answers ARE at the Bottom of the Bottle…

‘Long Finish’ As featured in Wine Enthusiast

A bottle of wine can open up communication and evoke emotion like nothing else in the world.

There are few things as dynamic, engaging and provocative as a bottle of wine. Contained in that bottle are the blood, sweat and tears of the hundreds of people involved in its production. The fact that it ages and has its own life cycle sets it apart from just about any other beverage. But it’s what can occur between individuals who share a special bottle that makes it so intriguing.

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Just to be clear, I’m not advocating overindulgence. However, it sometimes takes more than just a sip, or even a glass, to open the doors of communication and set the human spirit free. Often, the last sip of wine is the best. It can take some time for a wine to open up and reach its full potential. But when you sit with a friend or family member and look forward to an in-depth conversation about life, the improvement and evolution of that wine is part of the overall enjoyment.

2015 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml

My parents were over for dinner last year, and I opened a bottle of Hanna 2013 Bismark Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It was young and opulent upon opening, but my dad and I agreed it was going to improve dramatically in just a short while. So as we sipped, we talked.

 

We talked about the wine, of course. But we also discussed the amazing playoff run the Yankees were on, and how the team compared to those of the late 1970s that we loved so dearly. We talked about how, a few years back, he had lost his passion for oil painting, but he had just started his first new painting in ages. And as we sipped, not only did the wine improve, but so did the content of our conversation.

As we enjoyed our last glass, my daughter came flying into the room to give him a big ol’ Grandpa hug. Filled with emotion, he wanted to make sure I knew that my daughter, his only granddaughter, had filled the void left when he and my mom lost their first child and only daughter shortly after her first birthday.

Of course, having my brother and I soon after that traumatic event certainly helped. But never having a little girl around had apparently left a vacancy in his heart and soul that was never fully repaired until now. And as we discussed this truly heartfelt and intimate revelation, we realized that the bottle was finished.

As anticipated, the last sip was indeed the best.

‘Long Finish’ As featured in Wine Enthusiast

Wine Ratings vs. Vintage Ratings

Wine Ratings

If you are familiar with wine ratings in general, you already know they are often used to try and communicate to the consumer the quality of a specific wine or vintage. However, ratings are in no way a clear indication that you are going to enjoy a wine. Many wines will have varied ratings from numerous wine publications and media outlets, meaning there is no science to this but more of an art.  For example, the recent 2013 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir recently received a 95 Pt Rating from one highly regarded wine publication, and an 89 from an equally highly regarded wine publication. A 6 point differential is a pretty big spread! That being said, wine reviewers are judging wines on overall quality, aging potential and any flaws a wine may have. So ratings are probably still the best overall indicator of quality. However ratings can come in a couple of different forms, either on the wine itself or on an overall vintage from a specific location.

A wine rating is pretty self-explanatory.  A wine is sampled (hopefully in a blind tasting) by a reviewer and that reviewer determines the score on the 1-100 scale (or 1-20 in certain publications like Decanter) based on appearance, aromas, palate and finish. The higher the score, the better the wine (theoretically). Often a reviewer will specialize in rating a specific region(s) so that they can really focus on the intricacies of the different wines they taste. However, it is important to remember that since there are so many wines in the world, not all of them get reviewed.

However an entire wine region is also rated by many publications on the overall quality of the juice being produced from that particular year from said region. Moreover, there is much research during the growing period of each vintage in every important wine region to make some early predictions on how the vintage should fare. For example, the 2013 vintage in Napa was being touted as one of the greatest vintages since the iconic 2007 vintage, so it was no surprise when Robert Parker gave that Napa Vintage 2013 a 98 Point Rating. That is not to say that every 2013 Napa Cab is a 98 point wine. More that with the overall quality of that particular vintage, the level of quality in wines produced within that vintage should be higher than most other vintages.

Can bad wines be made in good vintages? Sure… Can great wines be made in poor vintages? Absolutely! 2000 was notoriously one of the best vintages Bordeaux has ever seen, yet it was equally bad in Burgundy. Yet I have tasted a number of 2000 Burgundy wines that showed as much delicacy and elegance as form the highly acclaimed 2009 and 2010 vintages. And remember, a rating is still just one person’s evaluation and opinion. The best way to find out which wines and vintages are best suited for you and your palate is to keep trying new and different wines from different years. If you find a professional wine reviewer that has the same palate as you do, than you probably want to watch out a little more closely for his or her wine and vintage ratings as you may find some of your new favorite wines by doing so.

Cheers!

(This post was also featured on Wine Express with a few edits for their needs, take a look below!)

Wine Ratings vs Vintage Ratings