VINTAGE | VARIETAL | LONGEVITY
The short answer is: it depends. A major factor in how a wine ages is how it was handled and stored. Was it exposed to high heat? Has it been sitting in a store window in the sun? Did it get stuck in the back of the truck while being transported during the winter? Was it stored next to the furnace? Extreme temperatures and light are a wine’s biggest enemies, as well as rapidly fluctuating temperatures.
Grgich Hills has been making wines with remarkable longevity since 1977 and we’re proud that our wines continue to improve with age for a long period of time. That’s because we make wines that are balanced, with excellent acidity, and which are made as naturally and with as little manipulation as possible. In our estate grown vineyards, we grow our grapes organically, which produces healthy, flavorful and perfectly balanced grapes, which are then picked at the peak of maturity. At the winery, we’ve held periodic tastings of Grgich Hills wines stretching back into the early 1980s. These wines had been properly stored at the winery, and the wines were still alive and fascinating to drink. In addition, our wines are known for their consistency of quality and style, varying little from vintage to vintage.
And, while the Bible says, “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better” (Luke: 5:39), keep in mind that an aged wine is much different from a just released wine. The whites develop a rich honey color with age, with the flavors displaying complexity and a subtle Madeira-like oxidized character. The reds lose some of their bright fruit but develop complex and more subtle flavors and aromas that they can only achieve with bottle age. Some people look for those flavors; others would rather have a new release with more forward fruit flavors.
Having said that, we’ve found that our Fumé Blanc (dry Sauvignon Blanc) usually peaks within two to three years and, though it can last for around eight years, is best enjoyed young to enjoy all of its fresh flavors and clean acidity. Our Chardonnay does not undergo malolactic fermentation and it can peak within seven to 10 years, offering enjoyment for many years beyond, even 20 years or more.
Since our Zinfandel is so tasty, it is often consumed as soon as it’s purchased. Our Zinfandel has more structure than most and we’ve discovered that it can continue to develop complexity over five to seven years. We’ve even enjoyed our Zinfandel after it’s reached 20 years old. Our Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon peak around 10 years and will continue to develop for another 20 to 30 years, if you can control the urge to enjoy them now. While the bright fruit flavors recede, the tannins soften and become silky and velvety.
The late harvest Violetta, because it is made from grapes rich with botrytis, has a high residual sugar as well as nice acidity. It’s typically at its peak three to five years after the harvest but continues to deepen in color and develop those wonderful apricot and honey flavors for another 10 or more years.
We think that, when in doubt, you should open the bottle. In fact, each year on the last Saturday in February “The Wall Street Journal” declares that it is Open That Bottle Night so wine lovers can pull the cork on those bottles of wine and champagne that they have been saving and enjoy the contents that were meant to be enjoyed.
We hope this general guideline helps you enjoy your wines with friends and family.