Aged But Not Old: How To Know What Wines to Keep
A few tips and tricks for recognising ageing potential!
Austrians are Junkies – the Heuriger kind!
A little while back I participated in a masterclass called “Rotgipfler & Zierfandler” (two wines that are pretty much only found in Austria. The guy leading the class was the famous Austrian wine critic Willi Balanjuk. He said, “Austrians are young-wine junkies”. And you know what? It’s totally true!
Austrians do prefer to drink the most recent vintage, especially of white wines, and even more specifically, varietals like Grüner Veltliner.
Red wines usually stay in the barrel longer anyway, but even then people drink them as soon as the bottles hit the market. Winemakers have had to respond to this demand, and don’t even bother keeping large amounts of vintages for storage.
Sarah and I are suckers for older wines. Of course, there’s something special about drinking a fine young wine, but storing them and letting them continue their development in the barrel or the bottle teaches us so much about a wine’s character! Age adds depth and complexity to a wine, and it’s fun to reminisce about that year.
The winemakers themselves actually keep a few bottles from each year, usually not to sell, but more for reference or nostalgia.
We have been lucky and some of our winemakers have treated us to some of these older vintages! Ilse Mazza brought out a 1995 Grüner Veltliner and Michael Opitz offered us a 2011 Pinot Gris Reserve. We had great fun digging into the foamy mould in Hans-Peter Goebel’s cellars to taste a 1993 rosé (it had a lot of sherry undertones, but was surprisingly drinkable!). It isn’t only interesting to see how these wines have changed, and what long-term storage does to wine, but also an honour to get this sneak-peek.
One of our goals is to bring older vintages of perhaps unexpected varietals to the forefront. If you can find them on the market, that’s great (Leo Uibel has an excellent 2011 Pinot Noir), but also consider buying wines that have ageing potential. It takes a bit of discipline (trust us, we’ve tried and failed many times over the years), but if you get more than one bottle, take notes and try to compare them in a few years!
Of course, not every wine is suitable for ageing; Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:
Alcohol and Acidity
Low-ish alcohol content
In Austrian wines this isn’t much of an issue. Austria is what’s known as a cold-climate country, and the wines here don’t often go above 13,5%-14%. But as a rule of thumb: Lower alcohol helps keep the wine from heading into vinegar territory. A prime example: Rieslings like Diem’s Riesling Rosenhügel age well in general, or try Schneider’s Weissburgunder 2016.
The acidity in a wine reduces over time, so high acidity means the wine will stay “fresh” much longer. This goes for reds and whites! Red wines with high acidity are pretty hard to drink young, but a white wine can age just as well. Hannes Hofer’s Rotgipfler Hausberg or like Oskar Hager’s Novemberlese.
Sugar and Tannins
Lots of residual sugar
White wines often contain more residual sugar than red wines. So a good Riesling or a balanced Grüner Veltliner will have enough residual sugar to keep the wine from going sour. One of our favourites is Thomas Ott’s Riesling “Spiegeln”!
High in tannins = the stuff that dries out your mouth
Tannins are what give a wine structure. Tannins and colour come from the grape skins, so they feel more obvious in red wines. White wines are usually not left on the peels for long, but we recently tasted several Rotgipfler that had that very unique mouthfeel of tannins. They soften over time, which means age will only make the wine smoother. We see in crisp reds that the fewer tannins it contains, the earlier it will taste “flat”. We have a few reds that are rich and very tannic: Erich Sattler’s St. Laurent or Blaufränkisch Hochäcker 2014 from Bauer-Pöltl.
Some grape varietals are more open to aging. In Austria, you will find more storage potential in white grapes like Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, Riesling (reserve/smaragd) and Grüner Veltliner (reserve/smaragd), and reds such as Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt, as they are high in tannins as well as acidity.
So there you go! And don’t forget to always buy decent quality (this is not a concern when you’re buying with us!), and you can enjoy your wines for several years!