The Oak Barrel's Guide to Enjoying Older Wines

The Oak Barrel has an extensive collection of aged wines that have been stored at optimal temperature and humidity conditions for most of their life. To ensure the best experience when purchasing these wines, you should understand several things.

Aged wines are different to wines made for immediate consumption. If you are used to drinking recently released wines, then expect old wine to be different. Generally, wines that are produced to be consumed within a year or two from release are often made in a fruity style, quite often with soft tannins and acid that is not assertive. At the Oak Barrel we call these wines “quaffing” wines. There is certainly enjoyment in many quaffing wines to be enjoyed in the presence of friends. Many fine older bottles had higher tannin and acid when young to ensure a long drinkable life and as these bottles age they have the potential to develop much more complexity and nuance both aromatically and, on the palate. As the chemical changes take place during the ageing process the character of the aromas and palate profiles change. These wines are often special occasion wines and special considerations need to be taken into account.

Firstly, inspect the bottle. The capsule may some signs of mould. This is not a problem usually. The level of wine in the bottle may have dropped a little. We call this ullage and as long as it is not excessive, the wine in the bottle will still be enjoyable. Look for sediment in the bottle. This will almost always be present in older wines. To ensure maximum enjoyment, let the bottle rest before you open it, preferably standing-up to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle so ideally, you’d wait at before opening the bottle. The Oak Barrel team recommend resting in a standing position for at least a week and up to 4 weeks for older wines.

Secondly, many older wines have been sealed under cork, especially if they have come from Europe. Cork is a natural product and ages with the wine. This may have leaked slightly. As long as this is not noticeable on the capsule, it should not be a problem. On the other hand many older corks will be very dry and crumbly and difficult to extract; this is not cause for worry, as long as the cork is removed gently to avoid breakage. If available, we recommend using a pronged cork remover (Ah-So) rather than a corkscrew.

Thirdly, older wines may be quite volatile, so we do not recommend breathing older wines for longer periods. Decant the wine to separate the sediment from the bottom of the bottle.

Give the wine a little air but do not “swirl” the wine in the decanter as this can accelerate the release of the aromas prematurely. The wine often will open up in the glass and reveal all it’s special characters.

Your expectations of aged wine should be different to young wine and it should be treated as such. Share the experience with company that will also appreciate the experience and as always serve with food that will complement the wine and the experience.