What Happens When You Age Wine? Comparing 2 Reviews of the Same Wine 8 Years Apart
Take a trip back in time with me. All the way to the hyper distant world of 2014. My then-girlfriend (now wife) and I had just come back from a 5 month soujourn in South East Asia, and my parents (presumably grateful their feckless son hadn’t gotten lost in the jungle) celebrated by popping the very, very good 2010 Chateau Fleur Cardinale.
Suffice to say, the wine was delicious, having mellowed in my Dad’s wine fridge for 4 years. But for a good Bordeaux, four years may as well be the tick of the second hand. Many Grand Crus, stored properly are best after a decade or more, and many can be drunk for decades after that. Fleur Cardinale is probably not in the highest echelon of aging potential, but it certainly can lie down for a time.
Luckily for me, that bottle enjoyed eight years ago wasn’t one of a kind. In fact, my old man had three in cold storage. One other was consumed over the ensuing years, but one — one was nearly forgotten. After fetching a lesser vintage I noticed it in the back and brought it up with my Dad. It was his great idea to do another review of the wine, and compare notes. And we’ll do just that in a sec. But first:
Why Do People Age Wine?
Aging wine is, essentially, the process of slowly oxidizing it. The very limited amout of air in the bottle gently exposes the wine to oxygen and over the course of years it changes the flavour. In good wines intended for aging, this process can round off harsher tannic edges and soften aromas that are overwhelming when the wine is young. As wine matures, the flavour profile tends to become more complex, and many believe this added complexity is the “true” nature of the wine. It’s why you might get your wrist slapped by a Bordeaux nerd for popping a cork a few years too soon.
Most wine can be aged, at least for a few years. But some simpler wines benefit less, as their one-note appeal is actually diminished with age. And, even in really, really good wines, there’s an upper limit to any percieved improvement. This is called the “peak” and it is usally a relatively brief window. After that, the wine can taste increasingly flat, until eventually most of the aromomatic compounds have diminished and the wine has begun it’s final journey towards vinegar.
The Difference Eight Years Can Make
That’s all well and good in practice, but for most people who only have access to one special bottle at a time, you only get to have it either young or old — not both. I was incredibly interested in how the theoretical difference and the practical changes would align.
In 2014, I noted how intensley fruit forward the wine was. I also (rather charitably) indicated it was very dry, with the tannins leaving the mouth feeling downright puckered. I praised its lush viscosity and its accessibility to new wine drinkers — something many Bordeauxs lack.
I can’t help but think how nice it is that I’ve matured right alongside the Chateau Fleur Cardinale. I’m not sure my palate was quite as broad nearly a decade ago (although my ego was significantly more vast). My 2022 tasting revealed a wine very much in the prime of its life, and I’m pleased to say I found it improved to it’s last go around. On the nose, the fruit was tamped down a bit, with the dark cherries being the primary note. There was far more earth and wood, which I like.
I talked about how thick and chewy the wine was eight years ago, but I found it a little thinner, and less mouth coating. This could be partially explained by all the particles that had fallen out of suspension and collected as sediment. The taste was downright lovely. Lots of dark fruit still, but a new backbone of leather and tobacco that had barely been a faint whiff before. The tannins had mercifully receded and between that and the thinner body (and slight chill from the cellar) I found the Fleur Cardinale quite refreshing for a big Bordeaux. The finish was long and earthy.
Aging Wine Can Be a Good Idea
I wouldn’t necessesrily suggest tossing your Yellowtail Shiraz in a closet for a decade (the bin might be more appropriate). But for some bottles, a lengthy time in lie-down can have a genuinely worthwhile impact. I highly recommend you grab a couple good bottles and treat one like a time capsule. I had a ton of fun sipping them both slow, and raising a cheers to myself through the years.