Old is gold… when it’s good Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Posted by Joelle Thomson on

Do aged wines taste better and, if so, why?

The short answer is: Yes, sometimes, but only if you like that type of thing. It’s one of the most frequently asked questions we get from customers and wine lovers who are thinking about starting a small collection of wine, which in time, they hope, will grow. So it seems timely to write a little about this concept.
Wine that is made to age does tend to taste better when it is aged than wine that is made to be drunk young tastes when it is young. If you need to read that sentence again, do a recap. Basically, wines that are made by winemakers who want to create something decent for the long haul will taste better than wines that are made to drink in their youth. This is because there is more complexity that goes into the winemaking process. For proof, look no further than Hawke’s Bay Chardonnista, Tony Bish, and his range of good to outstanding white wines. The entry level Chardonnay is called Fat ‘n’ Sassy and it’s made to satisfy those who love the bells and whistles of buttery tasting wines. He gives it full malolactic and chooses yeasts that enhance the diacetyl (buttery) character, but he does not make this wine in a style that he intends for the long term. When presenting a Chardonnay masterclass session at Winetopia in Wellington this year, I was heartened to hear a Chardonnay lover tell us that she is drinking five year old Fat ‘n’ Sassy from her collection at home – and loving it. “So much more complex than I thought it would be.”

If only more of us took a leaf from her book. It’s not easy to keep wine, which is why most of us do tend to drink it when it’s young. That said, imagine how excellent Bish’s top Chardonnays could taste, if we gave them five or 10 years. Skeetfield, Golden Egg and, top of the tree, Zen – the new 2019 is outstanding (a 19/20 from me).


Old wines tend to…

Magnify whatever was happening in the wine when it was young. If they didn’t taste great then, it’s unlikely they will taste better now. Ditto your taste preferences. If you don’t like a wine now, you’re very unlikely to suddenly love it simply because it is older. Old wines tend to taste like more mellow versions of themselves than when young. This applies to the good, the bad and the ugly qualities in them. Just as great earthy Pinot Noirs tend to taste more complex and porcini like when older (if you’re lucky), wine faults also tend to be magnified with age, especially in wines sealed under cork. And of course, how wine is aged has the biggest impact on how it will taste when old. Hot temperatures will oxidise wines under cork and generally do other bottles no favours. Cork sealed bottles must be aged lying down to minimise oxidation rates and keep away from heat and light.

Here is a humbly priced Pinot Noir which is now four years old, which I think, is really punching above its price. I love the refreshing red fruit flavours, the smooth medium body and its long, earthy finish…

Buy 2017 Mansion House Pinot Noir RRP $24.99 here

Marlborough is more than a one trick pony, as the region's Pinot Noirs (and many other wines) show. Mansion House is another lesser known label as the supposed second tier to the large Whitehaven Wines. I love the earthy nature of this refreshing and affordable Pinot Noir.

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