Rants from the Nick side - Full Disclosure
A Practical Guide to Opening Older Wines
As many of you know, I bottle most of my wines unfined and unfiltered, ensuring the wines are carefully and naturally settled by time and gravity, not filters! The result is a whole wine, complete with balance, complexity, and texture.
Our wines are ready to drink on release and many of you enjoy them early, as do I. That said, I also have a serious side that likes to cellar wines for an extended period of time. As you likely know, Woodenhead wines cellar well. In fact, we make wines characterized as “vins de guarde,” meaning they “significantly improve if left to mature.”
Here are my techniques for opening an older bottle of wine, which you may find amusing, but they work. We’ll assume that you have cellared your wines well. Now, choose your company carefully. The emotions wine can bring are precious moments to be shared with ones you love.
Planning is essential. All wines throw sediment sooner or later, filtered or not. The tannins, polyphenols, anthocyanins, and acids conglomerate and fall out. If you store your bottles upside down or on their sides, you’ll get an accumulation on the side, in the neck, or on the cork bottom. Stand the bottle up for a few days before opening.
Carefully extract the cork. Sometimes, I use an ah-so rather than a corkscrew, especially if the cork seems soft. (Corks aren’t guaranteed. I spend damn good money on high-quality corks, but still…) Now pull gently in a through motion.
Okay, got the cork out? Here’s where my professional technique comes in. I stick my little finger in the neck of the bottle and twist it around to remove sediment and residue. Wipe your finger off and do it again. Now you have a purple pinky!
For the last step, carefully pour a small amount of wine into a glass, turning the bottle and pouring simultaneously to “wash the neck.” That should eliminate much of the sediment, except for what’s adhered to the glass and what’s at the bottom.
Decant if you like, or leave in the bottle. Note how the wine looks near the bottom. It’s naturally less clear than the rest, but it’s still great juice and drinkable!
Here are some older wines I’ve recently opened:
- 1994 Williams Selyem Olivet Lane Pinot Noir
- 2000 Woodenhead Braccialini Vineyard Zinfandel
- 2001 Woodenhead Wiley Vineyard Pinot Noir
All of the wines above had thrown sediment and tartrates, and all were wonderful!
Enjoy the discovery of wine.
Barrel tasting weekend is over, thank God. It's now time for the Spring 2012 Wine Club release. It's a busy time of the year, not only the tasting weekends; it's also time for blending, racking, and preparing for bottling. Whew! And everybody thinks winemaking is a sedentary endeavor but for crush. We call it passion, commitment, and hard work. It is all about the end product above everything else. Making less money on something that inevitably cost us more, it's the wine first, and there is no fast. Everything at it's own pace, thus the end product. Ours really does take time; you can see that the wines are a little older than what our contemporaries release. Taste our wines and you know why they are ready to drink with the entire velvet glove feel that you would expect. Patience is a virtue; fortunately for me it shows in the wines, not necessarily in me.
Remember, it's all about the wine!
You've heard many a controversy in the recent past of manipulated wines and I've got to tell you that what you get from us is pure. Pure in the sense that we don't add anything but tartaric acid, a grape byproduct that helps achieve balance, structure and deliciousness in the wines. We do not use enzymes in our wines. Enzymes, which are also naturally occurring in the grapes themselves, are now produced by several French wine labs to help in fast extraction of grapes to wine. The use of these enzymes, which are probably 1000 times (or more) what is naturally occurring, is prevalent in a lot of the U.S. producing wineries nowadays. (Funny, most French producers don't use these products). This manipulation enables wineries to get maximum extraction in less time, fermentations are faster and they just move them on thru. Time is money and full fermenters are a waste of space if they can't be used 2-3 or more times during crush.
Speed. No, we make "slow" wine the old-fashioned way, and are proud of it. Our fermenters are "dedicated" to the particular wine in them; they take as much time as they need. I don't feel the need to speed them along, or to get them more extracted, darker with more color or more weight than they get naturally. Nor do I feel we need to "juice" them with a newer vintage to make them fruitier in the short run; competition driven wineries do this often for medals and ratings. And no, we don't add Syrah or Alicante or Zin, dark varietal wine, to color up what nature gives us. You don't drink color, after all. And no, we don't do bleed offs for concentration's sake, causing reductive, smelly, unbalanced wines. Our philosophy is pure and simple; it is what it is, real wine from real people. We run a family business, which is small, and community based. Friends drive this vehicle and our local food producers as well as our local restaurants are an integral part of the way we live, eat, drink and love.
Thank you for your indulgence!
Make no mistake, our wines are completely handmade. A lot of hard work and our dinosaur methodology make these wines what they are. So when you pay those high prices to the big guys using extreme methods you wonder why the prices are what they are. Our wines speak for themselves and we hope you enjoy them in the tradition in which they were made. Great growers, older vines and patience equal extraordinary wine.