NEWS

Wine 101: A guide to drinking old wine at home

by: Ambrose Chiang
07 May 2020

With the social distancing rules still at play, virtual happy hours and gatherings have been our saving grace. And who doesn’t enjoy a glass or two of wine to unwind? Perhaps this is the right time to open that bottle that you’ve been saving for a special occasion and has been sitting in storage (we know you have at least one!) Wine gets better with age, yes, but there still are factors to note. From the cork to the ageing process, here’s all that you need to know about old wine and how to enjoy them.

What is wine ageing? 

Wine ageing is the process of improving the taste, flavour and overall quality of wine. Time does incredible things to the wine’s composition. During this period, the wine undergoes various chemical transformations that significantly changes its acid structure and tannin levels, and adds complexity in the aroma and flavour. The transformation over the decades can be truly rewarding.

Which factors contribute to the ageing process?  

Longevity in storage is dependent critically on the following elements: 

Acid 

Acidity plays the role of a regulator when ageing wine. For all the components to function properly and last longer, they should be within the levels of 2.5 to 3.4 on the pH scale.

Tannin 

Phenolic compounds such as tannin are integral antioxidants in wine. These compounds promote the beneficial form of oxidation and extend the life of colour, aromas and flavours of a wine.   

Alcohol

Some of the most long-lived alcohol are spirits and fortified wines. The higher the alcoholic strength, the more stable the liquid will be. 

Filtration and Fining 

In order to create all the chemical reactions inside a bottle, the chemical existence is foremost crucial.  The process of heavy filtration and use of strong fining agents can significantly decrease activity within the bottle.  

Sulphur levels 

Sulphur dixoide is commonly used in both vineyards and wineries for its antioxidant and preservative nature. Naturally, higher levels of Sulphur dioxide present results in better wine ageing ability.

Note: These factors help to figure out which wines are suitable to age. However, it’s important to note that just because the conditions are met, the flavours and aroma may not be enhanced after prolonged cellaring.

Cork

As wine ages, the cork will dry out and shrink which could potentially cause the bottles to leak. Corks could also be contaminated by Trichloranisole (TCA) before bottling which gives wine off-putting aromas such as ammonia and mould. This is what it means when people say ‘This wine is corked.’ However, mould on the top of a cork is not cause for despair as this is the part that doesn’t touch the wine. Some older corks will be partially saturated with wine or dry and crumbly – but again, neither is cause for alarm. 

How to enjoy an older bottle of wine?

Now that we are all informed about wine ageing. Here are some ways for you to enjoy an older bottle or two of reds or whites.

  1. Manage your expectations: Old wine differs from new wine.

  2. Let the bottle rest before you open it, preferably standing up to allow the sediment to settle. Travelling, even local commutes, can adversely affect wine, especially by dispersing sediment throughout the bottle. So ideally, you’d wait at least several days before opening the bottle.

  3. Don’t despair if you have some trouble with the cork. (Tip: Use a Durand opener.) 

  4. Decant the wine. It’s very important to eliminate the sediment from the wine, and no amount of very careful pouring will achieve this (unless you’re an expert, of course!) If not disposed, sediments may lead the wine to taste bitter and astringent. They, of course, also look unappealing once poured into the glass. In addition, many older wines will also benefit from some exposure to air.

  5. Refrain from panicking if the wine isn’t immediately spectacular – or even very appealing. We can cite numerous instances of older wines improving with air / time open.

  6. For most of us, drinking old wine is something of a special occasion, and it’s fun to treat it as such. Handle the wine with care, share it with someone you love (or at least like) and take some time to pair it well. Most importantly, let yourself relax and breathe along with the wine. 

If you’re a fan of vintage wines or looking to get the Durand corkscrew, here’s some places where you can purchase some.

Avize Wine Cellar

What to buy: Champagne from the 60s to 90s under HK$1000

G/F, 17 Moreton Terrace, Causeway Bay

L’imperatrice Wine Shop

What to buy: French wines from the 90s to early 2000s and Northern Italian reds from 60s to 80s under HK$1000

Shop C, 56 Hollywood Road, Central

Ginsberg + Chan Wine Merchants Asia

What to buy: A wide range of medium-bodied and full-bodied old world wines 

6/F, Loke Yew Building, 50-52 Queen's Road, Central

The Fine Wine Experience

What to buy: Premium and full-bodied Burgundy, Barolo and Bordeaux

Shop A, G/F, 165-166 Connaught Rd W, Sai Ying Pun