I used to play music in Lisbon with a Portuguese count (third in line for succession if they'd ever brought back the monarchy) who was a terrific guitarist. His name was a long series of generically European-sounding hyphenates, and he spoke English with an accent from a previous century, perfectly matching his flamboyant snow-white mustache. His family, among many other things, had produced some of the 20th century's best port wine.
And he taught me a trick. If you keep a wine long, long past its time - until well after its quality dips - it will often resurrect into something wonderful and different. It's just a question of patience. He even did this with white wines (never intended to be aged). I was once served, in his impoverished palace with copiously leaky roof, a good white he'd patiently laid down for decades which displayed the qualities of aged champagne - nutty and honeyed. It was great!
So this week I discovered that I'd inadvertently aged a case of "Sangre De Toro", a so-so Catalan garnacha no one considers a laying-down wine, for 20 years. Yesterday I opened a bottle, and it had real character! It could almost have passed for "stately"! Serious wine!
The problem is that over-aged wines only enjoy fifteen minutes or so of grandeur before falling apart (if you swirl, they'll self-destruct even sooner, the wine already having been subjected to as much oxygen as it can stand)*. But within that short window, a decent wine can dramatically over-achieve (if not - if it tastes nasty or faded - just leave the other bottles alone for another decade).
I once got to taste an 1874 Bordeaux (which certainly was made to be aged). It fell apart in my glass within 3 minutes...but those three minutes were great!
* - If you quickly seal and refrigerate the remainder of the bottle, you might squeeze an extra day out of it.
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