The secret of a long life

Chardonnay grapes

A reader writes:

“I really enjoy receiving you weekly emails – and this weeks article on the Californian chardonnays of questionable long term quality got me to thinking about the long term cellaring prospects of our great chardonnays in New Zealand.

I am currently studying the WSET diploma and have been looking at rootstocks, climate influences and a raft of other grape growing and wine making interventions that play a part in the production of wine.

I would be a liar if I said none of my ‘wine enjoying friends’ did not enjoy the style that has evolved in New Zealand and Australia and Sonoma over the past 10-15 years.

We see fine white Burgundy’s with potential cellaring of 10-30 years, and certainly if we look at New Zealand’s and Australia’s best chardonnay producers we are seeing wines that are ageing very well for 10-15 years. Do you feel that we are going to see chardonnay’s that are being written about with their cellaring times suggested longer, or is it still better to ur on the side of caution for the wine buying public?

And potentially, does the upper-end of the Burgundy market have the ability to age their wines longer than we do? And if so, what is their secret?”

My reply:

A major influence in a chardonnay’s ability to age is its closure. In my experience, screwcaps more than double the ageing window (compared to wine under cork). They also eliminate (well, nearly) the random oxidation that has been the scourge of Burgundy over the past couple of decades.

Bottle age brings into play two considerations. How long will the wine deliver pleasure and what age does it reach optimum quality. The answer to both is rather subjective. It’s a simple fact that some people prefer youthful chardonnay while others appreciate wines with bottle age.

Most local chardonnay makers tend to err on the more conservative side when recommending cellaring potential, perhaps because poor storage conditions can dramatically reduce a wine’s life when compared to storage in, say, a temperature-controlled environment. Ask Mike Brajkovich MW of Kumeu River to recommend the potential cellaring life of his best chardonnay and he will probably say 6-7 years, and yet I have tasted good bottles with nearly twice that bottle age.

To answer your two questions: “Do you feel that we are going to see Chardonnay’s that are being written about with their cellaring times suggested longer, or is it still better to err on the side of caution for the wine buying public?” I’d have to say “yes” because I believe that cellaring recommendations for wines under screwcaps are generally too conservative and will grow as winemakers learn more about the ageing ability of their wines.

“… does the upper-end of the Burgundy market have the ability to age their wines longer than we do?” Absolutely not. They use corks, we (mostly) use screwcaps.

One thought on “The secret of a long life”

  1. Tim Jirgenson says:

    I totally agree. I get so frustrated with wine under cork when it crumbles and taints a wine. Screwcap all the way. I’ve found White Burgundy very disappointing. Its so expensive and sometimes you don’t know whether it’ll be drinkable with some bottle age.

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