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Saturday, March 03, 2007

For how long this wine will last?


My last post was on the different components of wine aging. Today, I would like to focus on how to detect those components on the palate, and how to predict the wine's peak time.
From my experience, I 've learned to foresee the evolution of a wine by drinking it.
To uncover that evolution, I use the components that I described in the previous post - things that can be detected in the palate through taste and texture.
The famous tannins, aside from capturing oxygen, also disable the protein that controls salivation, making your mouth dry. They can produce a bitter flavor that comes from the sides of the mouth, or they can be "sweet" and just be astringent (puckery). A lower PH level (higher acidity) will do the opposite, increasing the salivation, giving a fresh and clean feeling and leaving a slightly bitter taste coming from the throat.
The sulfites can be detected as soon the bottle is open, with smells similar to that of rotten eggs. You can feel those aromas in different degrees from none to firm, and they will actually disappear within minutes after opening a bottle.
The wine evolves in contact with oxygen even before it's open, but the process will obviously speed up once the cork is pulled. Knowing how the wine tastes at the beginning, all the way through until it dies out will give you an idea of what happens inside the bottle.
A few posts ago, I wrote about Bernard Faurie Saint Joseph and the fact that the wine had developed for more than 48 hours before reaching the peak of its curve. That is a wine that will live in the bottle for a very long time. The 3 B's (Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello) are often wines that need time to evolve, as well. Biondi Santi started with the goal to make a wine that can live for 100 years. I had Barolo from the early 70s that was still vibrant and young with enough acidity to hold for another 20 years - easily.
Different vintages will also have different ageing potentials. Let's take for example the vintages 1996 and 1997 in Barolo.
1997 had a very hot August in Italy that accelerated the ripening of the grapes, preventing a proper maturation of the tannins and lowering the acidity. 1996, on the other hand, was a colder year with just the right amount of water at the right time.
At the time of its release, the 1996 Barolos were tight, almost undrinkable, but with the potential to age longer than I will live, under the protection of a thick layer of antioxidants. The wine had wonderful flavors of licorice and flowers.
This is what Barolo is all about, and 1996 is one of the greatest vintages ever recorded. Conversly, 1997 Barolo on release was ripe, fruit forward, lower in acidity and had softer tannins (and thus, less protection from oxidation). The wine was definitely more pleasant at a younger age (that's probably why the influential wine critics praised more wines from the 1997 vintage versus the more classic 1996).
It is not easy to train your palate to predict aging potential. A good start is to understand how a wine develops while you drink it; that will give you an idea about what will happen to it in the future.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

4 comments:

Tracie B. said...

we opened a castello di ama chianti from 1996 last night. era andato...che peccato! you just never know :(

De Vino said...

96 in Toscana was a very difficult vintage.

Tracie B. said...

you know, i checked for the reg problems (cork, oxidation, vinegar, etc), and none seemed to be present. but there was SUCH a harshness, like it never underwent malolactic ferm...i'm sure that's not the case, but i've never had this particular problem. it softened up a little over a few hours, but it never lost its bad attitude. any idea?

De Vino said...

Bad vintage, rain in the harvest period dropped the sugars levels wines are acidic thin almost diluted.
Funny thing is that up too mid of August it was supposed to be a great vintage.I had good Chianti from San Casciano di Val Pesa the sandy soils mitigate the devasting effect of the water.