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Wine Advice: Drinking windows

Not sure when to open that bottle you've been saving? When's best to drink your Port or Champagne? How does heat affect wine aging? See the queries from readers below and our industry experts' advice

Storage and drinking windows

Question: During the hot weather this summer, my wine suffered from being stored under the stairs at home where the temperature reached 24ºC. It made me wonder what storage temperature wine reviewers have in mind when they specify a drinking window. Would this be an ideal cellar temperature, or an ambient room temperature of, say, 18°C to 22ºC? Graeme Ewins, Bristol

Christelle Guilbert, Decanter tasting director, replies: All drinking windows assume ideal storage conditions, under which the chemical process of ageing is carefully controlled. At higher temperatures, wine will age faster and not necessarily in the desired way as the process becomes more volatile. The wine will also be more prone to oxidation. This problem tends to be exacerbated if the storage temperature fluctuates widely, which may provoke what we call cooked wine or heat damage. When a bottle is exposed to high temperatures, the liquid expands and it may push the cork out or the wine may leak around the cork. My advice is to store your most precious bottles professionally (in your area, Averys of Bristol offers this service for less than £10 a year per case). For other bottles, open them earlier than the recommended drinking window and decant them to open up the wine.

From the November 2014 issue of Decanter

Drinking young vintage Port

Question: In your Port decanting feature (December 2013) one of the Ports you tasted was a 2011. If I want to drink vintage Port young, how long do I have before it starts closing up? Is there a general rule? Ed Powell, London

Richard Mayson replies: Vintage Port traditionally enjoys a bloom of youth for about two to three years before starting to close up and enter into an adolescent period. This may last anything up to 20 years, depending on the year and the shipper. Single-quinta vintage Port tends to emerge into fragrant adulthood a bit earlier, after about 10 years in bottle. Having said this, over the past decade there has been a big improvement in the quality of the spirit used to fortify Port, and this has caused the wines to behave differently. The 2000 vintage marked the change, but it is probably most evident in the widely declared 2007 and 2011 vintages – their wonderful fruit purity has been evident right from the start. David Guimaraens, head winemaker for the Fladgate Partnership, thinks the transition from youth to maturity will be much smoother in future, with less of the awkward adolescent stage that sometimes makes you wonder why vintage Port is so special.

From the October 2014 issue of Decanter

See our how-to guides to decanting wine and Port here

See Richard Mayson’s Vintage Ports 1994 here

Ageworthy sparkling wines

Question: Are there any other sparkling wines with the longevity of Champagne? Marie Greenwood, Hampshire

Richard Juhlin replies: Longevity in sparkling wines is an interesting subject. More and more people are realising that Champagne is among the most ageworthy of wines. The usual reason given is its high acidity, but it is not as simple as that. Low acidity vintages like 1947, 1959 and 1976 are among the most sought-after for collectors. It seems that alcohol level, fruit concentration and dry extract are as important as acidity. On top of that we know that sugar and the CO2 bubbles keep the wine younger. As a last factor we can add disgorging – or not disgorging. A wine that is kept in the cellar undisgorged is often as fresh as a daisy directly after opening. Most of these factors apply not only to Champagne but to all sparkling wine; does this mean that most sparkling wines will become better with ageing if properly stored?

For sure, most sparkling wines become better with longer ageing on the lees, but ageing after disgorgement is not always a good thing. Cava, for instance, becomes more smoky and complex, but loses the freshness that it needs so much. Most New World fizz relies on direct, youthful fruit and does not age that well. Having said that, I have come across a few stunning examples of Californian sparkling Chardonnay that ages in the Champagne manner. The best Franciacorta, like Ca’ del Bosco’s Anna Maria Clemente, tastes wonderful after 15 years, gaining a toasty complexity. The best fizz I’ve ever tasted was a 11-year-old 2003 Nyetimber from England. But perhaps the best sparkling wine to age, excluding Champagne, is top German Riesling sekt: 20 years is nothing for a high-acidity, top-class Riesling from the Rheingau or Mosel. The best examples develop a minty and chocolatey nose and a honeyed aftertaste that is worth waiting for.

From the October 2014 issue of Decanter

How to choose vintage Champagne

Champagne disgorgement: It’s all in the timing

Growing old gracefully

Question: Does rosé age, or should I always go for the most recent vintage? Stephen Powell, London

Richard Bampfield MW, a wine educator, speaker and judge, replies: Dry rosé wines in the Provençal style would generally be drunk as young as possible, preferably from the most recent vintage. However, new entrants such as Domaines Sacha Lichine are introducing oak-aged rosés (Garrus, Les Clans), made from their best grapes, and there are early indications that these have ageing potential.
The top dry rosés from Bandol are also considered to have ageing potential over perhaps three to five years. Sweeter styles of rosé such as Rose d’Anjou and Californian blush Zinfandel, as well as rosés from the southern hemisphere, are definitely made to be drunk as young as possible.
The one exception to the ‘drink rosé young’ rule is vintage rosé Champagne, the best examples of which age wonderfully. Mature vintage rosés from Dom Pérignon, Dom Ruinart, Roederer Cristal, Billecart-Salmon and some others deserve a place among the world’s greatest wines.

From the July 2014 issue of Decanter

See our Provence Rose panel tasting results here

Wines from 1950

Question: My father-in-law wants to celebrate his 65th birthday next year with wines from his birth year, 1950. Who can I contact to source some wines? Charles Heywood, by email

Margaret Rand replies: It won’t be easy to find wines of that date, and even more difficult to be sure they’ll be in good condition. It was a good vintage for Bordeaux and for vintage Port, but even so, the point of your very expensive purchase is likely to be the date on the label rather than a sublime drinking experience. Vintagewinegifts.co.uk listed, at the time of writing, Châteaux Cos d’Estournel, Duplessis and Mouton-Rothschild, the last two in half bottles; also Croft 1950 vintage Port and various Cognacs, Armagnacs and malt whiskies. Vintagewineandport.co.uk listed a Barolo, Château d’Yquem, a Gattinara, a Rioja, and more Ports. (I’ve never bought from either company.) Alternatively, you could contact an auction house such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s and ask them to notify you if anything comes up.

From the October 2014 issue of Decanter

The life of leftovers

Question: I understand that wine ages better and more slowly in a magnum than in a smaller-sized bottle, but does leftover wine deteriorate more quickly in a magnum than in a 750ml bottle? Renate Crossley, London

Steven Spurrier, Decanter consultant editor, replies: In short, yes. Wine ages more slowly in magnums – and even more slowly in double magnums (four bottles), jeroboams (six bottles) and imperials (eight bottles) due to the proportionately smaller amount of air in the bottle once filled and corked that causes ageing through oxidation. Inversely, if you are left with one quarter of an undecanted magnum, the wine will age faster than one quarter of a 750ml bottle due to the larger proportionate volume of air – and this even faster than if there was one quarter of wine left in a half bottle. For this reason, I have a few empty half bottles to hand and pour my (rarely) leftover contents into these and cork them up, so that whatever is left will be good for a few more days.

From the November 2014 issue of Decanter

Bin-end sales: buyer beware?

Question: Wine merchants sometimes have ‘bin-end sales’ but I’ve always steered clear of them because I’ve assumed that they’re getting rid of wines that need drinking quite soon. What’s your view? Are there genuine bargains to be had? Lindy Ormerod, by email

Margaret Rand, Decanter contributor, replies: Yes, in my experience there are genuine bargains. But as with all sales, you need to keep in mind what you actually need and how soon you will drink it. Most wines offered in this way (and we’re not talking about two for £10 supermarket wines here) are probably within their drinking window and might be near the end of it. Some might need drinking within six months, while others will be good for a year or two – or longer in the case of intrinsically long-lived wines such as Riesling. Just don’t get carried away and buy more than you’ll drink.

From the November 2014 issue of Decanter

Got a question of your own? Send it to our editorial team at editor@decanter.com

Written by Decanter

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