Tasting of ancient wines : advice and good pratices

tasting ancient wine

You wish to bring out a bottle from an ancient vintage and you are hesitant about how to properly prepare your wine ? It is true that old wines require great respect when preparing them before a wine tasting. Between cellaring, uncorking and good oxygenation of the wine, you should leave nothing to chance.

The first thing to do in order to know if the wine is ready to serve is to smell its aroma then taste it. If it delivers a flavor profile consistent with its age, then it is time to drink it. If the result is less satisfying, then it is advisable to let it rest for 1 to 2 hours.

Here are a few good habits to have in order to properly prepare an ancient wine for a tasting, and give it the best possible odds to delight the palate of wine lovers, novice or expert.

Respect for the ancient wine : from cellaring to uncorking

Old vintages must be kept with a few extra precautions compared to younger wines. Horizontal storing is widely used but requires a few simple precautions. It would be inconceivable to bring out the bottle an hour before tasting and put it upright abruptly. The result would be disastrous : cloudy liquid, stirred deposit (impossible to avoid when serving) and outrageous tasting. The bottle must be turned gently to an upright position the day before and kept without any disturbance until the wine tasting. A wine basket may prove to be very useful for this type of delicate manipulation. Stored vertically for a few hours before tasting, the deposit will gather at the bottom of the bottle, allowing for a cleaner service (with delicacy of course).

Uncorking an ancient bottle is a key moment and must be executed very carefully. If making sure that the capsule is cut low enough to avoid any contact seems obvious, uncorking requires some care : do not force the corkscrew down too much if you want to avoid any cork deposit in the wine, rotate the cork slowly and carefully, wipe the rim of the bottleneck (inside and out) with a clean towel. The use of a blade corkscrew is often recommended for a smooth and easy encorking. Drive the longest blade down between the cork and bottleneck until the shortest blade is in contact with the cork as well. The last step is to turn gently the cork until it is removed.

A simple and gentle method proven successful

One method to properly prepare an ancient wine before tasting is extremely simple. And yet, it is amazingly efficient !

To serve an old wine smoothly while reviving its flavors, a simple task is necessary : allow the wine to breathe for 4 to 5 hours before tasting by uncorking the bottle and letting it rest undisturbed, without any handling.
The slow oxygenation of your ancient wine will allow the bad molecules to evaporate and help reviving its aromas. It will simply allow the wine to open up.

Avoid decanting old wines

Isolating the wine from the deposit seems obvious if you want to enjoy every single flavor it offers. But decantation is to set aside for younger wines. Why ? Beyond 20 years of age, a wine needs calm before tasting. The sudden oxygenation resulting from the decantation is not recommended for old and delicate wines, the subtleties of which could be strongly altered.

So it is better to use the slow and gentle oxygenation method explained previously by serving the wine a few hours after uncorking, in a gentle manner to manage the deposit distribution. Keeping the wine at a temperature of 14°C may also help with preparing your bottle properly. In fact, let's talk about storing ancient wines !

A gentle service for a smooth tasting

It is recommended to serve an old bottle at a temperature of 16 to 18°C for red wines, and 10 to 12°C for white wines. This slight temperature difference with younger wines allows ancient wines to acclimate more efficiently and therefore to keep their original flavor. Additional tip : prefer an ice bucket for table service.

It's also important to know that wines must be tasted in a particular order : from the oldest to the youngest. For the simple reason that the palate will be best prepared for an ancient wine, subtle and complex, at the start of a tasting rather than at the end when it will already be lined with less subtle tanins from younger wines.

Wine accompanies specific meals with which it must agree perfectly in order to deliver its full potential. For a great wine tasting, it is best to avoid overly spicy food to let the wine fully express itself. Nothing is better than a simple meal (meaning which focuses more on the authenticity of flavors) : beef tenderloin, mushrooms and mashed potatoes with a 30 year-old Bordeaux is a perfect example, recommended by Au Droit de Bouchon !