By Elspeth Brown
Fifteen years ago, I had just quit cooking at Grove Park Inn and decided to open a wine store in Weaverville, a small town right beside a dry county. A lot can happen in that amount of time. Friends and family come and go. Babies are born. Children start to drive and leave the nest. Friendships deepen and so do your wrinkles. Plus, dreams can become reality. Since my business, Maggie B’s, is celebrating 15 years I want to celebrate the vine and the wine. What happens to a bottle of wine that has been aged for 15 years or more? All that time and energy that is put into a wine should be celebrated, and the hard labor that has improved the product should be explored over time.
An extended amount of time a wine has spent in a bottle can either turn it into vinegar or a masterpiece. Only 1 percent of all the wine produced is meant to be aged. Some good candidates for aging are wines with high sugar content such as sauternes or riesling, or a port wine. When aging a red wine, look for grapes with high tannins such as cabernet sauvignon, nebbiolo or sangiovese that has been aged in oak barrels.
First, how you age your wine should be top priority. Your bottles need to be stored in a cool, dark place on their side. Your cellar should be kept between 53-59° with 75 percent humidity. The wine can begin to turn due to a variety of reasons: oxygen, direct sunlight and extreme heat and cold. Oxygen can be very harmful to a wine. If a wine cork begins to dry out, oxygen can leak into the wine. All wine contains bacteria and when it is exposed to oxygen it turns the sugar and alcohol to acetic acid. Yuck! Direct sunlight and the extreme temperatures will literally cook the wine.
Wine is a living thing and is always evolving. When a wine is young, we taste the primary flavors such as grassiness in a sauvignon blanc or bright red fruit in a pinot noir. As wine ages, the tannins soften, become gentler and rounder—like a lot of people when they get older. Sediment can settle in some red wines and even the texture of a wine can change with age. Dry white wines can feel viscous and oily, while red wines can be perceived as smoother on your palate. The color of a white wine will darken over the years, while a red wine will lose color. A white wine will become richer, imparting stronger flavors, whereas a red can become more subdued, enhancing dried fruit flavors and earthy notes.
If you time the opening of a well-aged wine just right, you will taste the true magic and transformation of the wine. Tasting a wine that has withstood decades is indeed a special event that hopefully everyone gets to experience at least once. Cheers!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.