Yesterday over lunch I got into a discussion about how long to keep white wines. White wines are meant to be drunk young…or are they?
Many whites have a freshness and vivacity which fades over time, which is why they can be excellent candidates for screw-top closures. The nature of screw-tops is that they capture the wine’s qualities when first bottled, and allow only micro-oxygenation over time. This is a problem for red wines meant to develop after bottling, but for young whites, it’s ideal. If you want to try aging white wines, look for corks, not screw-caps.
Soon after I arrived in France, I had an incredible 13-year old Hermitage white wine (a blend of Roussanne and Marsanne grapes) which opened my eyes to the joys of white wines a bit long in the tooth.
Of course, I knew about old Sauternes, as well as fortified white wines such as sherries, but this was only my second time tasting an older, dry white wine. The first time had been a bit of a fluke: I had a bottle of Entre-Deux-Mers which had been in my grandparents’ wet bar, and had been moved a few times since then, once to Tokyo and then back to California. I finally opened the wine when it was about 20 years old, and I found it to be the most complex white I had ever sampled, with layers of flavors and aromas which revealed themselves in the glass and on my palate, and a long, winding finish. Normally, the Entre-Deux-Mers wines (always whites, although reds are also produced in the region) aren’t meant for long-term aging, and this wine could easily have been undrinkable, especially given the trials and tribulations I’d put it through.
Then on my last visit to the US, I was treated to a 1959 Marcobrunner Riesling Auslese from the Langwerth von Simmern winery. A colorful and interesting label whetted my appetite for what lay hidden inside. Poured into a glass, the wine was a honey brown color with orange glints. The wine was labeled “Cabinet”, which these days refers to its level of dryness, but at that time meant that it was the best of the vintage. The wine opened up with smells of toasted nuts, honey, and lemon peel. It had medium body and was fairly dry, with oodles of pecan and hazelnut flavors as well as some caramel and iodine, and it retained a good level of acidity without being biting.
The opportunity to taste a 55-year-old white wine doesn’t happen often (this being the first time in my life, how about in yours?), and it got me thinking about buying white wines with the intention of forgetting about them for a few decades. Not every white wine will offer the best chance of an unforgettable experience when opened 30 years later, so here’s a list of a few things to look for:
- Chenin Blanc
- Alsace (France)
- Chablis (France)
- Loire (France)
- Rheingau (Germany)
- Andalusia (Spain)
- Douro (Portugal)
- Champagnes (Chardonnay-based champagnes can age very well, due to the high level of acidity in the grapes)
- Fortified wines (sherries, white ports)
- Dessert wines (Sauternes from Bordeaux, Quarts de Chaume from the Loire, Ice Wines from Canada or the Northeastern US)
- Look for top producers who have been lauded for their consistency
- Follow the recommendations of wine writers (Decanter online often suggests aging potential)
Open yourself up to new experiences by stashing away a few bottles to enjoy in 2040. Just remember where you put them!