Drinking Old Wine
Many of our favorite wines have been old bottles. While the great majority of wines are made to be consumed within a couple of years of their production, the relatively few wines that are intended to age can offer absolutely magical tasting experiences.
We are pleased to offer older wines for sale at Chambers Street Wines. We source the wines from private collections, and we guarantee the condition of the wines we sell; if you have a bad bottle from us we will always offer a store credit for the wine. Since we do offer this guarantee, we are very careful about where we buy wine.
It’s inevitable that we have returns, because it’s inevitable that there will be bad bottles in any batch of wine – old, or new. Assuming – as is true of the old wine we sell – that the wine has been stored in proper cellar-type conditions, then the cause of condition problems can almost always be traced to the cork.
Cork, being a natural substance, lacks the consistency of man-made materials, and comes to wineries in a range of quality; even the most expensive corks can be irregular. As a wine ages, the cork will dry-out and shrink, which can cause bottles to leak; even a new cork can leak a little bit in shipment – cork is not a perfect seal. Cork can also be contaminated before bottling by the chemical TCA (Trichloranisole), which gives wine powerfully off-putting aromas of wet cardboard, mold, sometimes ammonia-like chemical.
Mould on the top of a cork is not cause for despair, as this is almost always confined to the part of the cork that doesn’t touch the wine. Some older corks will be quite damp or partially saturated with wine – again not cause for alarm. Some older corks will be very dry and crumbly and difficult to extract; this is not cause for despair either – when in doubt, taste the wine!
The following summary should be very helpful in getting the maximum enjoyment from your bottle of old wine:
1) Manage your expectations: old wine is not like new wine. This is due in part to changes in the way wine is made; we are accustomed to wines that are intended to be consumed young, which are often made in a rich, fruity and dense style; many fine older bottles never had those characteristics in the first place. As those bottles have aged they have the potential to develop much more complexity and nuance both aromatically and on the palate, but – as suggested above - they are also less beefy and fruity; more subtle, nuanced, sometimes softer, sometimes a bit more austere.
2) Let the bottle rest before you open it, preferably standing-up to allow the sediment to settle. Travel – even locally – can adversely affect wine, especially by dispersing sediment throughout the bottle, so ideally you’d wait at least several days before opening the bottle.
3) Don’t despair if you have some trouble with the cork (see above).
4) Decant the wine. It’s very important to eliminate the sediment from the wine, and no amount of very careful pouring will achieve this (unless you’re really expert and pour out the bottle in one-go). When not separated from wine, sediment will make the wine taste bitter and astringent, will shorten the finish of the wine, and of course is unappealing in the glass. In addition, many older wines will also benefit from some exposure to air.
5) Don’t despair if the wine isn’t immediately spectacular – or even very appealing. We can cite numerous instances of older wines improving with air / time open.
6) For most of us, drinking old wine is something of a special occasion, and it’s fun to treat it as such: handle the wine with care, share it with someone you love (or at least like), take some time to find something good to eat with the wine, let yourself relax and breathe along with the vino.