The secondary fine wine market in South Africa has seen a rapid rise over the past few years, making it easier to purchase a range of vintage wines. While you can be assured that vintage and brokerage wines purchased from Wine Cellar and Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auctions come from credible provenance and are properly stored, here are some useful terms and tips to note.
‘It’s remarkable to what extent provenance and condition affect a wine’s resale value.‘ – Higgo Jacobs, expert sommelier and fine wine auction partner.
Ullage is the amount of headspace between the closure and the liquid inside a wine bottle – i.e. the fill level. Over extensive periods of time, the level is expected to drop due to cork absorption and evaporation. Ullage is one of our best guides to indicate vintage bottles’ condition, and lower levels in young bottles of wine are not accepted. In general, levels below mid-shoulder are not accepted in Bordeaux shaped bottles or 7cm in Burgundy bottles, except in extremely rare and old examples.
Importantly, low ullage is not the only indicator of wine quality. Often lower ullage bottles can offer the same quality as those with higher ullage.
Storage Tips & Tricks
To ensure that maximum enjoyment is gained from purchase, it is important that these optimum cellaring conditions are continued, especially if resale is being considered. Wine Cellar offers professional cellaring services otherwise, here are a few important pointers on how to store wines correctly until opening:
· Temperature – Ideal range between 12°C–16°C. The key is avoiding fluctuations in temperature.
· Darkness – Store wines in a dark space, as light prematurely ages wine.
· Store wine on its side – This position keeps the liquid in touch with the cork.
· Quiet – Free of vibration and other movement which will disturb the sediment.
· Humidity – Roughly at around 70%. This prevents the cork from shrinking.
Opening older corks
Natural corks are a great closure for ageing wines; however, it is wise to expect a cork in an aged wine (whether white, red or fortified) to be brittle and fragile. It is hard to predict exactly when a cork will lose its youthful vigor, a sensible rule is to handle all wines older than 10 years with care when uncorking for enjoyment. The old sweet wines can be especially tricky.
When using a regular (screw) opener, the screw must be inserted into the center of the cork, and go deep enough, otherwise only the top half of the cork will be pulled out. It is advised to pull upwards very softly and very slowly. Tools of the trade for easier opening are the prong openers, also called the ‘Ah So’ for fragile corks. Generally, most corks can be removed with regular bottle openers, as long as it’s done slowly and carefully.
If the cork does disintegrate and a few pieces fall into the wine, this does not mean that the wine is now spoiled. The wine can simply be decanted with a funnel and sieve, or any clean filter process. A corked wine is a wine that has been sealed with a defective cork and can be a perfectly healthy-looking cork in a young wine. A piece of cork in a wine can be removed without any harm to the wine. Note also that a brittle cork does not equate to a spoiled wine. The only proof of a wine’s condition is in its taste.
Many red wines and Port-style wines would have also dropped a sediment. This is a harmless deposit that actually points to positive elements of more natural winemaking and less intensive filtration by the winemaker. It can simply be avoided from finding its way into a glass by moving the bottle from horizontal storage into a vertical position for a few hours before service.
Very old wines will be sensitive to oxidation and should never be aerated in a decanter as extensively as a younger wine. If an older red wine has been decanted for sediment, it should be served immediately thereafter.
Basically, the older a bottle of wine, the more respect it commands, however an extra little bit of care will be dwarfed by the reward inside the bottle.