This is partly a matter of taste preference: a lot of consumers have grown up with the taste of youthful or primary-fruited wines. Given the choice of young, upfront aromatics or the more complex, but less showy, secondary and tertiary characters, they gravitate towards the “freshly arrived in the bottle” examples. They find the denser, more mushroomy, earthy notes of the older examples harder to enjoy.
That said, many have never given older wines a chance. A bad bottle – or simply one which did not meet their expectations – has tainted their approach to a whole class of vinous delights. Otherwise well-informed consumers say our best reds cannot age past eight years.
This is palpable nonsense. Most of our better wines have not yet even reached their plateau of maturity in this time. Those with real potential longe-vity – Cabernet, Pinotage and Shiraz come to mind – need at least twice this long to reveal their true qualities.
This distrust of older wines has one very happy outcome for the more adventurous consumers: there are always parcels about – from people downsizing their homes, or clearing out grandpa’s garage. These older rarities are often offered for sale for a fraction of the price of the current release. Typically vendors are happy to accept an offer on the parcel – usually between R500 and R800 per dozen.
Still, there are a few guidelines: most older wines have never been well stored.
Before buying, look to see how much wine has “bled” through the cork: if the level in the bottle is more than 2cm below the cork, when the bottle is standing vertically, poor storage may have ruined its prospects. But if the levels are good, and the brand names familiar, take the chance.
Older wines offer a much more gratifying experience.