Old bottles: to uncork or not?

stappare vecchia bottiglia

It happens that you find some old bottles in your grandparents' cellar, that you have forgotten some wine at the bottom of the shelf, but also that you have purchased some specifically to make it age. Here's what to do to avoid spoiling it and to understand if and when it's right to uncork it.

The time factor is fundamental for making the wine evolve. However, it is important to understand to what extent the tightness of the precious liquid can be challenged.

Especially in the Seventies, the fashion of collecting bottles became widespread, with the idea of ​​thus increasing their value. Wine is a changing subject, and the result is not always the one expected, i.e. the improvement of the quality and economic value of the bottle. Here's what you need to know to understand how to treat old bottles, those found in the cellar often with labels ruined by the years.

1. Old wine is not always synonymous with quality

It is good to clarify a key point: not all wine is suitable for aging and each bottle has its own evolutionary curve.

For this reason, an old bottle is not always synonymous with quality and it is not necessarily worth uncorking it. Wine improves and becomes a great wine with time if it has the characteristics to do so.

2. All wines become old

Every bottle of wine has the same evolution , which even if it seems curious is that of living beings: it goes from being young, and perhaps unripe, to being mature, old and then in decline, when it is no longer pleasant.

In essence, we move from fresher wines and, if red, with tannin more angular, with greater softness, more complex aromas, a less aggressive and smooth tannin.

To decide whether to uncork it or not you need to understand whether our bottle is in the intermediate window in which the wine gives its best, provided that your personal taste allows you to appreciate evolved wines.

3. Aging wine is a process of no return

Wine aged for a long time in the bottle inevitably brings with it the risk that the precious liquid has exceeded its ascending curve and is no longer interesting, even before becoming unpleasant.

Uncorking a very old bottle exposes you to the risk of it being undrinkable, so it must be understood whether you want to take the risk of throwing away all the contents or whether you prefer to keep it closed.

4. To uncork or not? A practical guide

To decide what to do with an old bottle received as an inheritance or forgotten in the cellar, it is useful to ask yourself these questions:

How was the bottle stored?

If you fear that it has not been in suitable environments and that it has suffered significant temperature changes, it is unlikely that a miracle could have happened and that the wine inside would have been well preserved. If the years behind you are still acceptable (within ten) you can try it, otherwise it is better to keep it closed, in memory of that year.

What cap does it have?

The cap in cork it allows air to transpire and if it is damaged (because it dries out or becomes mouldy) it does not protect the wine: an old bottle with a cork stopper is certainly very delicate.

The Stelvin cork has no conservation problems and generally does not allow air to transpire; Latest generation screw caps also allow oxygen to pass, in the desired quantity, which is commensurate by the winemaker with the specific potential of that wine. We'll talk about this in the next point.

What wine is it?

Not all wines they are suitable for aging: most cannot resist decades. To still be in good shape after so many years a wine must have had excellent acidity, structure and body.

Among those that have evolutionary potential (i.e. that resist well over the years), the main ones are: Barolo, Barbaresco, Aglianico del Vulture, Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Porto, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell; among the whites: Picolit, Riesling, Vernaccia di Oristano, Vin Santo Trentino, Sauternes. Italians are predominant, and in fact the numbers show that globally almost one in 5 aging labels is Italian.

What do I want to do with this old wine?

If you aim at the economic valorisation of the bottle, you must remember that few wines go from being unknown to being valorised: if you want to keep a bottle for resale it must be a quality product. cellars which have a consolidated market image and have the label well preserved .

How can you understand if it is a wine that can be exploited on the market? Just look to see if it has ever gone through an auction.

How was it produced?

We need to check it name and understand whether that wine was made with complex or simple vinification processes: in this second case (refinement for short times, in steel or concrete, vinification with the Ancestral or Charmat in the case of bubbles) the wine will hold less.

- Read also: things to know about wine refinement

How old is he?

The vintage is crucial, and must be evaluated in relation to the type of wine and the place where it was created. It is used to understand the influence of that year's climate on the aging of that wine.

Giving general indications is impossible but to have a scale keep in mind that for a wine that can age 15 years of bottle aging is a long time: if your bottle has more than that it is a risk. For this reason, those who love wines with very long aging processes tend to buy more bottles, to experience their evolution over time. If your bottle is really too old, it is better to keep it closed, especially if the vintage is linked to some memory.

- Read also: because some bottles do not have the vintage on the label

5. Things to know if you decide to uncork that old bottle

If you decide to open the bottle from the cellar, be careful when opening it: the cork could be very fragile. And if it breaks, follow these tips .

Wine level

An important indicator is the level at which the wine reaches: if it is below the neck of the bottle it means that there has been a significant passage of air either because the wine is really very old or because the cork has defects.

Wine color

The nuances of a white wine range from greenish yellow to straw, golden and amber. In the reds from purple, to ruby, to orange and garnet. The color depends on the grape variety and evolutionary state, with a tendency to take on warmer colors as time passes.

The distance between the typical color of that wine will tell you if it is in good shape or if it has already entered the waning phase, taking on dull, less intense and unusual colors (brick but also brown in the worst case scenario) or even very light for red wines: it will not be difficult to pick up the signals that something has gone wrong (for example premature or unnatural oxidation).

old wine bottles

Smell of wine

After many years closed in the bottle, the wine may need time to stabilize: give it time, opening it early and without using the decanter .

The nature of the aromas and above all their quality will anticipate the experience in the mouth. If still good, expect jam, spices, dried flowers, smoke, coffee, leather, truffle, undergrowth and other evolved notes.

- Read also: never again a silent scene when smelling a wine

Taste of wine

Tasting an aged wine is a complex and fascinating experience, partly different from that of a wine that has only a few years under its belt.

If red, the tannin will have lost its strength and will be very velvety, for any type the acidity will be reduced in favor of softness.

If overall there remains a pleasant and interesting sip, the wine will still be good, but if the lack of acidity is total, resulting in a totally spineless or even completely unpleasant taste, unfortunately it will have been uncorked too late.

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