Tips for keeping your wine in good spirits
By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
April 16, 2003
That bottle of wine someone gave you for Christmas, a birthday or an anniversary how long can you keep it before it either reaches its peak or turns bad from old age?
The better the wine, the longer the lifespan. Wines in the under-$10 category, regardless of the grape, is made to be drunk early. Regardless of how good the storage condition, the wine is simply not made for aging.
On the other hand, better quality wines have a much longer life span. It's a combination of the quality of the grape and the wine maker's skill. But even those vary depending on the storage condition.
That, above all, is the determining factor.
Take the best bottle of wine on the market today, stick it in an overly warm closet and a year later be prepared to throw it away. Or put it in a kitchen wine bottle display where the sun shines on it for an hour or two a day and achieve the same result. Wines don't like heat and they don't like sunshine. We've said this before, and will repeat again, never buy a bottle of wine that has been sitting in or near the store's front window if you notice the sun hitting it.
But assuming normal storage, darkness, consistent temperature under 70 degrees (60 is much better) and little or no vibration, here's the life span you can expect from your wines.
Cabernet sauvignons can be held from five to 25 years. Don't push it to the maximum because of the other factors, but you should be able to keep it, well stored, for at least five to 10 years. The 25-year mark is for optimum storage conditions.
Chardonnay. This wine is made to be drunk young. Any chardonnay older than 3 years is living on borrowed time. That's why most wine merchants stock primarily recent vintages of this delightful white. One to three years is about right. After that, you may notice the wine in the bottle is darkening and when opened it could possibly have a musty odor and a similar taste.
Merlot is a five- to 10-year wine. At the age of 5, it has probably reached maturity. At the age of 10, it certainly isn't going to get any better and is likely to get worse.
Pinot blanc has the same time limitations as chardonnay. One to three years is about it. Drink it young.
Pinot noir is usually estimated to have a four- to seven-year lifetime, but many of the French burgundies made with pinot noir grapes can last much longer if stored properly. Since few people have true wine cellars, go with the four- to seven-year standard.
Sauvignon blanc wines in their youth are wonderful. But they simply can't stand up to every day storage for more than two years. I had one recently that was much older and it still had youth and freshness, but it had been stored under ideal conditions.
As for sparkling wines, don't put aside two bottles of your wedding champagne, one for your 25th anniversary and another for number 50. It won't happen. Figure that seventh anniversary to be the outer limits for sparkling wines.
Zinfandels are considered to be hearty with a range of three to 10 years. But I must confess that last weekend a friend produced a bottle from 1977 and another from 1978 and they were outstanding.
The outside of the bottle was pure dust and the inside was pure pleasure. Again, it was a result of really quality wine and equally fine storage. I don't have zinfandels in my cellar from vintages that far back but it was nice to taste wines more than 20 years old that still hold up.
April 24 tasting
That brings us to the syrah wines we will serve at our April 24 tasting. These wines are a favorite because of their longevity. Whether you call them syrah, as is done in California, or shiraz, as they do in Australia, these are big, spicy, rich, dark colored wines that are very, very tasty.
Syrah wines can last in first-class condition for as long as 20 years, and one reference work says even 50 years is possible. The syrah grape is used extensively in the Rhone Valley of France as well as in California and Australia. We will taste only the latter two.
Their style may range from light fruity wines to dark, in fact almost purple, colored wines that are thick and rich with long-term potential. The best of the syrah wines have a lovely spicy quality reminding me of cassis.
Some have a touch of a smoky flavor, but almost all are massive in their taste. In their youth, they carry substantial tannins. One critic calls them "a thoroughbred among wines" and I agree.
We will have some competition at this tasting. As we said, both California and Australia use the syrah grape, but their techniques of wine making are not necessarily similar.
We will have three from each country, a total of six, and we will drink them in pairs, one country against the other. We've selected bottles that seem to have similar characteristics in order to learn if the end products do vary.
Make your reservation by calling 482-0930 or send your check for $27 per seating to Wines Unlimited, P.O. Box 5223, Meridian MS. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at Northwood Country Club and everyone is invited to attend. You do not have to be a member of the club.