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By Ben Greene
If I had to say what it is that I like best about wine it would undoubtedly be the way it changes over time. The best wine has a lifespan similar to our own, made up of stages which blend into one another, as it mellows from its brash youth into harmonious maturity, then begins a slow and graceful decline.
Old wine is fascinating. Not only is it a link to the past – the work of a particular person in a particular year in a particular place – but it tells us about that time in the light of its age. It is not the same as when it was first bottled, but its beauty lies in the way it allows us a fleeting glimpse back through the years. Would you rather stand in a ruined Greek temple or a modern reconstruction? The pleasure of an old wine is in its gentle power to evoke the past through its age.
So when it is the right time to drink a particular wine? A lot of it is down to what you like. My colleagues regularly excoriate me for buying and enjoying wine that is ostensibly past it. But some of the best wines I’ve had – and the most pleasant surprises – have been these. Even if the wine is past it, there is usually something of interest there still. But ideally, of course, you catch a wine at just the right moment. This is when everything is in balance. The tannins have softened to produce a pleasant mouthfeel; the intensely fruit-dominated character of its youth has developed into a complex bouquet; the acidity is present but balanced by a sweetness and intensity of flavour and the finish is long.
How do you know when this moment has arrived? So much depends on how the wine has been stored that the same wine from a different source can be found to have aged at a vastly different rate to the bottle under consideration. The best you can do is make an educated guess, bearing in mind the following tips, before deciding to open a special bottle.
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