The downside of cellaring wine
Founding CEO of NZ Winegrowers (then Wine Institute of NZ) Terry Dunleavy, invited me to sample some ancient vinous treasures. He was sorting out the wine cellar in the back of his garage and, realising that quite a few bottles were past their “Best By” date he thought it might be fun to open them.
Unfortunately, the storage temperature proved to be less than ideal. Many of the bottles were only three-quarters full. Terry chose a dozen bottles of local wine that ranged in vintage from 1969 to 1985. All were seriously ullaged.
I first established an appropriate scale by which to judge them:
- Truly outstanding, wish I had another bottle
- Amazing, lovely mature wine
- Not bad, very developed but offers good drinking
- Obviously aged, marginally drinkable
- OK to taste, wouldn’t swallow
- Seriously bad
A tip to anyone in the same situation. Use a Teflon-coated corkscrew with a wide worm to get a better grip. If the cork starts to mushroom and is clearly going to break, back off and try using a two-pronged ‘Ah-So’ corkscrew. If all else fails you can remove cork chips with a coffee filter.
The corks in most of the bottles were very soft. Some were impossible to extract but I managed to get most out in one piece.
Terry had a few old Bordeaux (which we didn’t open but plan to do so at a later date) including a 1959 Mouton Rothschild, 1976 Cheval Blanc and a 1986 Chateau Cos d’Estournel. They had been stored in the same conditions but had much higher fill levels. The reason is simple, they used better corks.
The best of the Kiwi contingent was Hunter’s 1985 Chardonnay, Marlborough. Although very developed with little fruit it was rich and buttery, chardonnay as it used to be, and not at all bitter. I gave it a 4+
Montana Chablis 1969, which scored 5, was pretty undrinkable, but I could still taste the character of a wine that I drank many times while working for Montana in the early seventies. It was probably made from the hybrid baco 22A and palomino and tasted pretty bad upon release but in the day we quaffed it without complaining.
Temperature-controlled storage facilities (I use Transtherm cabinets) will greatly extend the life of wine, but they can also encourage wine hoarders to keep precious bottles for far too long. I don’t regard myself as a hoarder but reckon that at least 20% of the bottles in my cellar are in decline. The greatest challenge facing every wine cellar owner is how to avoid the obsolescence factor.