In every JUSTIN Times (our Wine Society Newsletter), we publish a chart which offers recommended times on when our wines are showing well. These charts are, by their very nature, flawed (more about that later) but in the case of our Spring/Summer 2011 Newsletter, we found some serious clerical errors that had some of our members panicking about when to drink some of their wines. Rest assured, these wines have not gone bad just because the chart mistakenly says they are “too late”. Below is an article on how wines change over time, and why your personal taste, as well as wine’s general disregard for being commodified, defy the whole concept of a “perfect moment” on when to open a particular bottle.
I happen to like bananas as a quick, healthy snack. Like wine, bananas can only be grown well in certain regions and require some logistical planning to get them to you in good condition. Like wine, they also change over time. We all know that the green-skinned bananas that we buy in the store, will in time turn yellow, then a speckled black, eventually turning black on the outside and soft on the inside with the flavor and texture changing as well . Wines share some similarities to bananas in respect to their evolution through time, and like bananas, people tend to have some strong, but differing, opinions about when in their life wines should be drunk.
Wines, both red and white, have components that not only affect taste, color and texture, but also affect how wine changes in time. The relationship between these components is often referred to as balance, and this changes while the bottle sits in the cellar over time. In red wines, these would include tannins (compounds that cause that dry, almost chalky feeling in your mouth), acidity (causes that lively, mouthwatering feeling), as well as flavor, color and aromatic components that contribute to a wine’s body and intensity that affect your general perception in reference to your personal taste (hopefully in a good way, but sometimes not so good when they are not working together).
In a young wine, fruit characteristics are very pronounced and those chalky tannins can be very aggressive. Most of the wine purchased in the United States is consumed shortly after purchase and since most people do not cellar wines, many have acquired a taste for this more aggressive flavor and tactile profile. It’s a shame in a way, since most red wines, and some whites, can really get much nicer with even a year in the cellar. This situation only points out two obvious things about wine and how we look at it. By its own ever changing nature, fine wine defies becoming a commodity and the more we consume rather than enjoy wine, the more we miss one of the most attractive aspects of this beverage that has been appreciated for millennia.
Over time, the tannins in a red wine join up with color and flavor components in the wine and form really long molecules that get so heavy that they fall to the bottom of the bottle in the form of sediment. This is usually apparent after about four or five years in most red wines. The tannins have physically linked up with color and flavor molecules (some of the most apparent contributors in a young wine) and since they are sitting on the bottom of the bottle in the form of sediment, they are no longer contributing to a wine’s palate and aroma intensity. These components (anti-oxidants) have come together after reacting with the very minute amounts of oxygen that permeate the cork in a bottle of wine and actually help protect the wine over time.
If we look at how this affects the flavor, texture, color and aroma of the wine, we find that, like the bananas mentioned above, the wine has “softened” and instead of the obvious “in-your-face” fruit and tannins, the wine is much more delicate and complex. In fact, while we refer to a younger wine’s aroma, a wine cellared for four or five years often takes on a quality we refer to as bouquet due to its more delicate and complex aromatic and flavor elements. And like those bananas, we will be at odds with each other on when to drink them, based on our own personal tastes. The more earthy elements of a ten year old ISOSCELES may not be to everyone’s liking, but if you are a fan of older wines from Bordeaux, they may just be what you are looking for! I will say, however that based on tastings I have conducted here at JUSTIN, everyone who tasted ISOSCELES in that five to eight year range(after the vintage date) enjoys them much more than when it is first released, even though we receive great reviews on the newly released wines.
Now you can understand why our aging chart, published in our bi-annual Wine Society Newsletter the JUSTIN Times, is only meant to be a recommendation, and will change periodically to reflect how the wines develop. To provide more meaningful information about our wines and how they change over time, we are changing the format of this chart. In the spirit of our social media leanings, we are also now posting a regularly updated chart on our website. These updates will be based in part on our Reserve Tastings series that we will be conducting on selected Saturdays throughout this summer.
Serving wines that are aged require some special handling as the chalky components of the sediment can negatively affect your ability to taste the wine. For more information about decanting older wines check out my previous article on when and how to decant, which is posted along with our popular aging chart.
Stay tuned for future articles on starting a cellar, making wines that age, collecting larger format bottles and more in future posts. To taste first-hand how wines age over time, join us for a Barrels and Bottles Tour in our cave. This tour which tastes younger wine from barrels as well an older bottles, is available every day at 3:30 or on weekends at 11:30 and 3:30 with 24 hour advance reservation.
And for the record, I do keep a personal cellar with wines going back a few decades. And yes, I do like my bananas softer and speckled .
Drink wines you like, but understand why you like them!
Jim Gerakaris, Certified Sommelier, CSW
Wine Educator, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery