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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Aging wine requires expertise

 •  Get a taste of the real thing

By Kimberly Karalovich

The appreciation of finely aged wine can be compared to the appreciation of finely crafted aged cheese. The crystallized white mold you find in old cave-aged Gruyere could not be produced without aging — oh, how sweet (and salty) that mold is, yummy! Meat is another example of a food being improved by age. Dry-aged beef develops an intense nuttiness with rich, refined flavors, flavors that could never develop in plastic wrap. I'm not suggesting that you go out and hang your steaks in the garage or leave your cheese in the refrigerator for a year — the process is a little more involved than that. There's a level of expertise, quality and precision required to age beef and cheeses to the peak of perfection with their flavors mature and textures fully developed. The same is true for wine.

One of the most age-able wines in the world is first-growth Bordeaux, a very expensive wine style. These wines can last 50-plus years and evolve as they mature. Drink a young Bordeaux and you might experience tight, gripping tannins (a mouth-puckering feeling) with soft red or black fruit that is difficult to identify, some floral notes, aromas of lead pencil or cedar that leaves a little bitterness behind and varied degrees of earthiness reminiscent of mushrooms and minerals.

At five to 10 years, a Bordeaux's fruit becomes more identifiable with perhaps cassis, cherry, or red currant. Its floral components will be more defined: You might detect violets, and maybe some bitter chocolate or coffee. The tannins will be a little softer and smoother yet still persistent. After 15 to 20 years, the wine's fruit starts to move to the background, leaving a little fig and plum on the nose. In the foreground, you might experience more specific earthiness, like black truffle, dust, maybe a little barnyard with leathery notes, aromas of cedar and perhaps a little smokiness. The tobacco and the bitter chocolate elements might become more like hints of hoisin or soy sauce.

At 20 to 25 years, the tannins will drape your tongue like silk. For the next 25-plus years, the wine will continue to evolve and change for the better, and then at some point the evolution will stop. When this happens, the wine will no longer improve and the flavors will simply fade away.

Wine changes in the bottle because, like cheese, wine is a living organism (or contains them). The question is, what will this living organism evolve into? Will it become a stale, bland beverage or a very complex, defined and flavorful libation?

There are many variables to consider in determining the suitableness of a wine for aging: what region it is from, what type of grape, and so on. But the most important variable is quality. The wine must be balanced and structured in its youth for it to improve with age.

Making sure you actually enjoy the taste of older wines is important to know before considering aging your "fine wines." Taste is subjective, so it just depends on what your palate enjoys. Not all meat-eaters prefer dry-aged beef over fresh cuts, nor do all cheese lovers prefer older, funky cheese over fresh young cheese. You may even find that you prefer the freshness of big, rich black or red fruits and hints of sweet spice or chocolate and coffee, and the bigger tannins of younger wines rather than the earthy, leathery, floral, less-intense fruit of aged wines.

If you enjoy aged wines, try an older, seven- to 10-year, premium California cabernet sauvignon such as Caymus, Plumpjack or Far Niente, or a 10- to 15-year Bordeaux from a friend's cellar (hard to find in stores) with a delectable dry-aged New York strip steak.

If your palate prefers younger fine wines, try a two-to three-year-old cabernet sauvignon, such as Paul Hobbs, ZD or Jordan, or a 2003 Bordeaux from Château Lascombes with a fattier dry-aged rib-eye steak.

To those of you who must have both aged and younger wines, I hope you have a lot of temperature- and humidity-controlled storage.


Kimberly Karalovich is wine consultant and general manager at The Wine Stop, 1809 S. King St.; 946-3707; www.thewinestophawaii.com.