Over the years we have had a number of experiences when we have opened older vintages. The following remarks may help you understand some of the happenings that can occur when serving these wines.
As with all cork sealed wines, these old wines need constant temperature (around 15-16°C) and constant humidity (about 85%) to maintain a good seal and good quality.
They will drop a deposit and this will take down some of the colour as well. So old red wines lose their brick red colour in time and take up a slightly brown-tea colour on the rim.
How brown depends on many things and varies with the vintages, as well as the varieties.
This is critical and double decant at that – especially if there is less than 3 hours before serving.
It would be wise to taste the wine after 1½ hours in a decanter, then again an hour later – just in case the wine “opens up” more quickly than expected.
The wine is served either from the decanter but better if it is returned to the same bottle (after rinsing and draining), as this leaves any further deposits in the decanter.
The older wines, after decanting, will taste quite soft because some of the tannins and acids are crystalised into the deposits. As such then they will be quite different from the current vintage in volume of bouquet and type of smell, and the taste will be much softer even if it is still a big wine.
Some corks will weep a little, but this usually seals off with time.
The level can be quite low on the shoulder of the bottle but cannot be guaranteed to be in good condition because of the extra air allowing oxygen into the space and the wine.
But then again it can be fine, so taste before serving.
Levels to the bottom of the neck are usually good. Not every time, but most often.
The corks may be quite soft, and crumble when the corkscrew starts to work in pulling the cork. Others may push into the bottle when trying to place the corkscrew into the cork.
The need then is to have a sieve funnel for the decanter and a cork extractor.
Make sure the corkscrew goes fully into the cork, as some bottles have very long corks (55mm, etc).
The diameter of the screw portion is critical to successful cork removal.
It must be larger than smaller, that is any corkscrew with a diameter less than 8mm may not successfully work on older wines, as it will tend to pull the centre out of the cork. So around 10mm is a good size.
Likewise the pitch of the screw needs to be open rather than tight.
The two-pronged Ah-so cork remover can be most useful.
Sometimes people taste/smell the wine when it is freshly opened and find that is has “bottle stink.” Obviously decanting is required to allow the wine to “breathe” and to let this stink blow off.
It can be amazing to experience the way a wine will blossom.
Very old wines, especially white wines of 10 or more years, will blossom after gentle decanting and then “live” for about an hour or so before they literally fade in both bouquet and taste.
With very old red wines it is best to taste the decanted wine every half hour or so just to pick when to serve at its best.
Those with large bases give more area for the wine to “breathe” and so are preferred, but they are hard to pour from towards the end so most often others are used.
If no decanter is available, a plain glass jug will do providing it is covered with cling-wrap. In fact the jug is easier to pour from when returning the wine into the rinsed bottle.
Sometimes just the transport will cause a cork sealed bottle to weep.
Let the bottle sit for a month on its side and if the weep gets no worse, then it will probably seal again.
However if this doesn’t happen, then you had best drink it as soon as possible.
In other words, mature wines just beginning to show their quality and style as they leave the winery and may be at their best at 15-20 years having been made deliberately to do this.
As a guarantee of longevity, that is more nature’s gift than ours.