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Old vintages:

Why do old wines arouse so much interest, perhaps even envy? When we talk about old vintages, we are talking about the age of the wine, its aromatic evolution and its rarity. Below, we offer you some elements to understand this category of wines...

Old vintages: all you need to know about the evolution and the aromas of the wine...

Old vintages:

Why do old wines arouse so much interest, perhaps even envy? When we talk about old vintages, we are talking about the age of the wine, its aromatic evolution and its rarity. Below, we offer you some elements to understand this category of wines...

Old vintages: all you need to know about the evolution and the aromas of the wine

First of all, the wine presents itself and evolves from an aromatic point of view according to various factors. These include, among others, the grape variety, the terroir, the climate, the winemaking process, the ageing process and its age.
The three main aromatic families are :

  • Primary aromas: these are the aromas specific to the grape variety (or varietal aromas), which are relatively easy to identify and which are found in fresh grapes when they are crunched. For example: the vegetal notes of Sauvignon Blanc, the fruity notes of Muscat or the lychee / rose notes of Gewurztraminer. These aromas will be more or less pronounced depending on the grape variety. The most expressive ones (Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat) are logically classified in the so-called "aromatic" varieties, while others, less expressive, are classified in the category of the so-called "simple flavour" varieties (Chenin, Chardonnay).

  • The secondary (or fermentative) aromas come from the fermentation process, generated by the yeasts: a first fermentation (alcoholic fermentation) transforms sugars into alcohol and is generally followed, for reds in general, by malolactic fermentation, which transforms malic acid into lactic acid. An example of a secondary aroma is the notes of English candy or banana in some first year, young wines (Beaujolais Nouveau for example). Notes of milk or butter are also possible, depending on the choice of yeast and fermentation processes. Indeed, various types of bacteria are involved in the fermentation process and their influence on the aromas is significant.  

  • Tertiary aromas (evolving aromas or "bouquet"): refer to the notes resulting from the ageing of wines, during their passage in barrel (woody, vanilla, toasted, etc...); or following a slow oxidation in the bottle. This last process induces an "evolution" of the wine: the tannins soften, the colour changes (from purple to red, then ochre for the reds; from lemon yellow to straw yellow then amber for the whites). Generally, young wines are fruity and high spirited in their youth, then gradually lose this bright fruitiness to acquire more evolved notes of ripe fruit (even candied), more spicy and finally more animal notes (leather, earth).


IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR WINE AGEING :

Not all wines are made to age. Some are made to be consumed in their prime youth (rosés, young reds, some simple whites) while others are made for ageing and are therefore less easy to approach in their youth. What are the essential qualities of a wine for it to age well? We can name five.

Firstly, tannins: Tannin is a natural substance of the polyphenol family. Tannins are produced naturally by plants (trees, vines, tea) to help them protect themselves. In fact, in addition to discouraging herbivores, they act as an antimicrobial and antioxidant. Tannins are found mainly in the skins of grapes, but also in the pips and the stalk. They are released during maceration, when the juices remain in contact with the skins, but also when the wine comes into contact with the wood of a barrel. This is why they are mainly found in red wines. Tannins are responsible for the colour but also for the structure of red wines. In their youth, we can generally say that the tannins are rather rough, producing a form of dryness in the mouth, or even astringency. With time, these tannins become softer, more relaxed and provide a more velvety sensation.

Secondly, a good wine has also and above all a good acid structure. Moreover, acidity is often presented as the backbone of a wine. It will play a fundamental role, both in the palate (taste sensation) and in the bottle (as a natural preservative). It is acidity that gives freshness to wines and carries the aromas. Without acidity, the wines would be soft, sluggish and somewhat boring.

Thirdly, there is alcohol. This, in balance with the two elements mentioned above, also forms the structure of the wine. A wine rich in alcohol will be warmer, more velvety on the palate, sometimes giving a sensation of softness.

Another important element in the ageing of wines: the terroir and the climate. Indeed, the types of soil, climate or environment of the vines are the essential elements of the soul of great wines. Because without good soil and good grapes, even the most talented winemaker will not be able to make a great wine.

Finally, let us mention the ageing process as a last determining point for the ageing of wines. Here, the winegrower plays a crucial role, since it is he who will decide the style he wants to give to his work. The length of maceration, the type of vinification, the type of filtration, but above all the type of container (barrel, cask, stainless steel, cement, concrete egg, etc...) and the length of time the wine is aged in the woods will have a major impact on the wine. It is important to remember that during its passage in barrels, the wine takes part of its tannins from the wood (oak in general).


OLD WINES: BETTER OR NOT?

The fact that a wine is old is no guarantee that it will be better. For this will depend not only on the qualities described above but also, and above all, on individual tastes. Some people like high spirited wines, others like more supple and mature wines. Some people like fruit and hate more evolved aromas (leather, earth), for others it is the opposite. To each his or her own preferences. If you have any doubts, don't hesitate to ask your wine specialist who will be happy to guide you!

HOW DO YOU ACQUIRE OLD VINTAGES?

Buying old vintages of Italian and Spanish wines online can be risky. Indeed, how do we know if the old vintage we are looking for will live up to our expectations? For optimal ageing, the bottle must be kept flat, at a constant temperature and humidity and avoiding any shocks, throughout the entire storage period. Before you start, make sure that your wine specialist knows the origin of the wine and that its storage conditions are adequate. At alfavin.ch: wine purchases are made directly from official producers or importers and not on international markets or other secondary markets (which may reveal some surprises). Storage is carried out in cellars with controlled temperature and humidity, ensuring optimal conservation and ageing.

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