As wine enthusiasts, we understand that there are wines meant to be enjoyed young and fresh, and then there are those special bottles, like Cabernet Sauvignon, that deserve the patience of aging. While many of us appreciate the instant gratification of uncorking a bottle and savoring its flavors, there’s a unique charm in the transformation that occurs when ageable red wines are given time to evolve in the bottle. In this guide, we’ll explore the art of properly storing and enjoying ageable red wines, with a special focus on the king of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Art of Proper Storage
Proper storage of ageable red wines is the foundation for a rewarding experience. The goal is to provide a stable environment that encourages the wine to mature gracefully. Here’s what you need to know:
- Temperature: Maintain a consistent temperature between 55-60°F (12-15°C). Fluctuations can cause the wine to expand and contract, potentially damaging the cork and allowing air in.
- Humidity: Aim for a humidity level of 70-75%. This helps keep the cork from drying out, preventing unwanted oxygen from entering the bottle.
- Darkness: Store your wines in a dimly lit environment, away from direct sunlight and UV rays. Sunlight can lead to premature aging and undesirable aromas.
- Vibration: Minimize vibrations, as they can disturb the aging process. A still, quiet environment is ideal—save that storage space under your stairs for non-wine items!
- Horizontal Position: Store your bottles on their sides to keep the cork moist and intact. A dry cork can lead to leakage and oxidation. Wines bottled under screwcap, as well as sparkling wines including Champagne, can be stored upright.
The Bottle Aging Process
Ageable red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are typically aged for a period of 1-2 years in oak barrels prior to bottling. The vintage of the wine refers to the year that the grapes were harvested, meaning that red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon often won’t be released until 2-3 years after the vintage date, as many producers will also age the wines for 1 year in the bottle prior to release. Over time, these wines continue to evolve in the bottle, revealing complex layers of flavor and nuance.
Here’s a glimpse into the journey your wine takes in the bottle:
- 1-3 years of bottle age: In its youth, the wine expresses vibrant, fresh fruit flavors and tannins. It’s a delightful sip, but it’s just the beginning.
- 4-7 years of bottle age: As the wine ages, it undergoes subtle chemical changes. Tannins soften, and the fruit takes a step back, becoming more dried in character. Earthy and savory notes often begin to develop, such as tobacco, tea, cured meat, and leather.
- 8-10+ years of bottle age: This is where the magic happens. The wine’s texture becomes silky as the tannins precipitate and new, complex flavors emerge—earth, dried and baked fruits, dried florals, and more. This period is considered by many—including our Winemaker, Michael Baldacci—to be the ideal drinking window for wines like Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a testament to time and patience.
Opening & Decanting: How to Approach an Older Bottle
Opening a bottle of well-aged wine, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, can be a momentous occasion. Here’s how to make the most of it:
- Stand It Up: If your bottle has been resting horizontally, stand it up for 24 hours before opening. This allows any sediment to settle at the bottom.
- Gentle Handling: Older corks are delicate. Use a corkscrew with care to avoid crumbling the cork.
- Decanting: While not always necessary, decanting can help aerate the wine and separate it from any sediment. Pour the wine into a clean, clear glass decanter and let it breathe for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.
- Savor Slowly: Take your time with each sip. Older wines can be more delicate, and their flavors can evolve in the glass. Let the wine tell its story.
In the world of wine, patience is required at every step, from the vine’s development throughout the growing season to barrel aging and finally to bottle maturation. The next time you open a well-preserved bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, savor the moment as you appreciate the time and care that went into creating this unforgettable experience.