Old Wine: How to Store & Serve It?

Does anyone remember the 10-year challenge on social media? Where we all posted photos of what we were doing 10 years before and how we had evolved in the decade that followed. Ten years is a long time so to see the decade condensed into a few pics was both marvellous and panic-inducing. 

The transformative effects of time are well documented. We don’t see it every day but the beauty (or horror) of the 10-year challenge was that it offered a distilled glimpse at our past. Once
I got over my vanity and posted the then and now pics, I (thankfully) received lots of “you’re ageing like a fine wine!” comments. Certainly, I might have a few more wrinkles and definitively have a few more kilos but when I compare myself to the 10 year younger version of me, I rather prefer the later edition. The envelope might not be as shiny as before but the maturity and balance far outweigh the aesthetic. 

To age like a fine wine is something wonderful. To get better as the years go on requires time, perseverance, and delayed gratification. It’s the textbook case of here the end justifies the means. Old wines (like old people) can be worth their weight in gold, if you get the right one. While we have often promoted the benefits of investing with your wine investing app in younger wines (greater ROI requires greater patience), we thought we’d spotlight what old might be gold, when it comes to adding a bit of ooh la la to your portfolio. 

Which Wines Are Considered Old?

To use the blanket term of “old” in this blog would be dishonest. Again, much like people, there is no single defining year when wine suddenly becomes old – I know a 30-year-old who has the maturity of someone twice their age and a 50-year-old who has the maturity of a teenager. But if we do need to put a year on it, anything 10 years past their bottle date could start to be considered as an age worthy wine

A wine that has reached its plateau of maturity can be simply magical. It offers nuances and textures that are unimaginable in a young wine. Certain wines – aka fine wines – are made to age. You’d be laughed out of oenology 101 if you even mentioned drinking a First Growth even five years after it was made. 

How to Serve Old Wine?

Preparing to Serve Old Wine

Old and older wines should be taken on a case by case basis. Assuming that you are looking to drink, rather than keep your bottle of 20-year-old Bordeaux the first thing you will need to do is let the bottle rest. Transportation can greatly affect the sediment in the bottle, so you’ll need to get that all ship shape before you can even begin looking for the corkscrew. Red wines which are two decades old should recover in about a week or so, while older wines – think 30 to 40 years – will need a month upwards before they are over the trauma of transportation. A quick rule of thumb is when the wine in the bottle is clear, then it’s time. To uncork before the wine is ready would be like trying to draw with a blunt pencil – pointless. 

Decanting Old Wine

Let’s start with four little words that every wine lover wants to hear. Decanting makes a difference. The simple act of transferring your best bottle of Bordeaux from one vessel to another makes it taste much, much better. It might sound silly, but it works. 

However, it’s not as easy as just uncorking and pouring your prize Pinot into a jug. Mais non. Decanting all wines – but particularly old wines – takes knowledge, patience and a certain amount of skill. 

The first thing you will need to decide is how are you going to carry the bottle up from the cellar steps? Two choices: either you’ll carry it vertically, but you will need to bear in mind that you will disturb the sediment in this case. So you’ll need to stand the bottle on its end as outlined above. It’s a longer process but it’s our preferred one. If you don’t have 4-6 weeks to wait, then you can gently remove the bottle from its shelf and rotate the bottle from horizontal to vertical gradually, so that the sediment is disturbed as little as possible. 

Older wines, especially if they have been correctly stored, have had plenty of time to age on their own, so they don’t need the boost of oxygenation – the main reason we decant young wines. In fact, the reverse can quite often be true – you may even ruin your beloved Burgundy by overexposing it to oxygen before serving. Thus, you should decant older wine about 20 minutes before serving (or two hours maximum), before it begins to change flavour.

Older wines form sediment, so a certain skill is required when separating the liquid from the masses. If you don’t want to take the risk (or simply can’t wait a month or so), there are tried and tested ways of “cheating” that are very effective. To decant without warning, you’ll need two pieces of equipment: a light source (a small torch, like the one on your phone, is fine) and a wine cradle. 

  1. Place the bottle gently into the cradle so that it’s not quite horizontal – think about a 20 degree angle. 
  2. Next, open the bottle. It may seem odd to be opening the bottle at this angle but you can do it; as long as you’re patient and careful. If the bottle’s opening remains above the level of the liquid, a spill is nigh impossible, even if you’re the world’s clumsiest person. Perhaps practice a little first though, it would be a terrible shame to ruin a prize bottle of red just because your hands are a bit slippery.
  3. Clean the bottle’s neck with a cloth, then begin turning the cradle slowly to pour the wine into the decanter. 
  4. This is where your little light comes in – keep it shining on the neck so you can watch for sediment creeping up. This usually happens when you get towards the end of the bottle. When you see the dreaded masses, stop pouring. The wine you’ve just decanted will be clean and clear, with hopefully no sediment in sight.

Chances are you’ll still have about a glass worth at the bottom of the bottle. You can strain this through muslin or a clean tea towel (a coffee filter also works) into a glass if you like. The result will not be quite as good as what is in the decanter, but not bad all the same.

Should I Invest in Old Wine?

We have over and over again extolled the virtues of investing in wine with Vindome. And we would have to assume that because you’re reading this, you already belong to, or will soon be a member of, our community. So we do not need to reiterate that the best returns come from buying young and selling when the wine reaches its drinking window. In fact, from an investor’s point of view, the very best returns are found in En-Primeur wine – when you buy at a lower price before the wine is even bottled and you take a gamble on the quality. It’s good to know that between a wine going on sale at En Primeur stage and its release date, there is usually a 30% increase in price.

Older wine’s resale price relies on supply and demand. The benefit of investing in older wine is that supply is usually low, thus demand can be high. And if you have found a buyer for your case of Cheval Blanc 1943 then well done you. But, assuming you have bought the same case only 6 months previously, chances are you won’t make a killing on it. Investing in wine can certainly be very lucrative, but it’s also a long game. We advise buying young and cellaring correctly until the time comes. 

Before trying a bottle of very old wine, check out these wine tasting terms & tips for wine tasting!

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