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How to taste an old vintage

25 November 2021

As we recently have released some old vintages from our family library for sale, I have decided to give you recommendations for the best way to taste an old vintage.

These recommendations are especially valid for the vintages that are a couple of decades old and at the top of their maturation curve, such as this Chianti Classico Riserva 1998, for example, where the grapes were harvested when I was still a young girl.

Every bottle is different

Let me first say this, the same wine in different bottles begins to differ slightly from bottle to bottle after 4 or 5 years after being bottled. This becomes increasingly evident as the years go by. Therefore, this Riserva 1998 will hardly be exactly the same as another bottle of the same vintage.

Thus, if any of you have bought several bottles of the same vintage, you can expect different tasting experiences every time. Look at it as if the bottles were twins: alike, but not identical.

A conversational wine

If you have received the wine very recently, you should let it rest from the travel stress for a couple of days. It might be good to store the bottle in a vertical position, so that any solid residue, that you often find in an aged wine, can deposit at the bottom.

If the vintage is quite old, as in this case, then my advice is to not pair it with heavy food, as the wine is fairly delicate in this phase. The body of the wine is certainly not that of a young one, and very structured or intense food can easily overpower the wine.

Perhaps consider opening an old vintage as a way to invite your friends or family before dinner time. This is a great way to share a glass of old vintage wine and chat a bit before sitting down to eat.

Throw away the decanter

Set aside an hour to an hour and a half for the tasting. Open the bottle carefully as the cork can be delicate, and pour the wine into the glasses.

We advise against using a decanter for quite old vintages. This wine, for example, has been in a reduced environment with a lack of oxygen for 23 years, so imagine the shock it would be on a chemical level to pour it in a decanter and risk spoiling it.

Instead, try using large wine glasses and swirl them every now and then to increase the contact with oxygen gradually. In the meantime, enjoy conversation with your friends and family, and exchange opinions about the wine. After about 30-90 minutes, you will see that the bouquet has opened up and evolved, and the last sip will be very different from the first one.

Using a decanter or opening the bottle too far in advance, you will miss the evolution in the glass and only get to taste the wine in its final phase.

What to expect from an old vintage

The experience of tasting an old vintage will surely be very different from tasting a young wine.

To begin with, the color of the wine will be different; as in the case of this bottle where you do not have a bright ruby red color, but a garnet red with a border that leans towards orange.

It will be fun to try and identify the perfumes; you can, for example, start with the fruity and floral notes. In each case, there will not be any fresh aromas. The fruity notes will make you think of fruit marmalade. As for the floral notes, they will be more like dried flowers similar to the ones you can find in old books or in a bag of potpourri.

Then you can try to recognize the many tertiary aromas: the herby notes like licorice root, the spicy notes like black pepper, as well as earthy and ferrous notes that will open up in the glass drop-by-drop.

On the palate, the wine will have less body than a young wine, a reduced acidity, and the tannins will be very delicate.

Once the bottle is finished

When the bottle is empty, I am sure that the experience will have been enjoyable. You will probably be rather hungry and it will be time to serve dinner and perhaps pair it with a more recent vintage of the same wine that can better sustain the various dishes.

Don’t forget to share your photos and your impressions about the vintage you have tasted with us. You can share photos via email or on social media.