Monday, April 22, 2013

Dude, My Wine’s Gone Bad: A Tragedy in Wine Aging

There was a time, shrouded in the mists of the past, when I was primarily a white wine fan. My introduction to the world of wine was via German Riesling and my palate was a spot sweet.

As I traveled the nation for business, I would frequently receive an amenity of a bottle of wine. These bottles returned home and the reds would gather dust while the Green Dragon and I would enjoy our perfectly chilled whites.

My tastes evolved into a love of almost all styles of wine (and certainly reds!) but this bottle of 2001 Gallo Family Reserve Cabernet, Sonoma County, sat patiently. Once I started my small cellar of wines, I decided not to open this since it was my oldest bottle
A nice feature of Cellar Tracker is the drinkability report, which gives you a drinking window for your different wines. According to Cellar Tracker, if there ever was a good time to drink this not-so-exclusive bottle (which cost about $10), it was around 2004. Having missed the prime drinking window by about a decade, I decided it was time to uncork it and see what was what.
After opening the bottle, and removing the crumbling cork chunks as best I could, I was assaulted by a blast of acetone fumes which caused tears to run down my grimacing face. Against my better judgment, and with trembling hands, I poured a glass.

With Green Dragon egging me on, I took a cautious sip. Sloshing in my glass, which swirled with ominous clots of sediment, was a liquid most vile. The “bouquet” it seems, was the best part of this wine and the experience cratered after that. The wine had been reduced to an undrinkable vinegar and should have been labeled, “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Uncork This.” So, of course, I offered Green Dragon a glass (but unfortunately, she was on to my game).

There is no pat answer on how long to age wine, this varies with the grape and the quality of the winemaking. In general, you want to consume your whites within three to four years of bottling. Reds will age longer and a medium priced Cabernet Sauvignon can be good from five to seven years. A higher priced quality Cab can easily go 15 years. Expect inexpensive wines to gain little from aging and go downhill more quickly.

Although this experiment was a bust, this is a fun activity for a dinner or wine tasting. Just make sure you have a dependable bottle standing by if your “aging beauty” turns into an undrinkable wreck.
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