A: There is an assumption that whites won’t go the distance. This month we are going to deep dive into why you can and should age white wines.
Some of the greatest wines we have ever enjoyed are mature white wines. Yes, the majority are meant to be enjoyed quickly, but that applies to all wines, red and white. What makes a wine age worthy has little to do with its colour, rather it’s the balance of acidity and concentration that determines whether a white wine will improve and gain complexity over time.
White varieties that age well are both high in acid and high in extract (the insoluble substances in wine that lend it flavour and texture). Riesling, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are all capable of producing wines that are built to age.
Burgundy produces some of the world’s greatest dry white wines. The terroir here gives wines with natural concentration in the Chardonnay grape and this depth and texture, matched with elevated acidity makes wines that will gain complexity over time. In our view, nothing touches the fine brilliance of an aged white Burgundy.
It’s true that great wine is only achieved with great grapes, but there are certain winemaking practices which help build the ability to age. When winemakers ferment for a long time on the lees, a sediment of dead yeast cells, it protects the wine from oxygenation and adds complexity and texture and helps build the wine to mature for years to come. We are empathic, as are our growers, on the point that longer in the cellar pre-bottling means greater longevity in the bottle.
The reputation of white burgundy took rather a battering during the mid-90’s and into the early noughties, where many experienced premature oxidation also known as pre-mox, or rather annoyingly ‘the pox’ where wines turned brown and lost their fruit after only very few years in bottle. Burgundy producers have been working hard to diagnose and correct the problem and while the cause still eludes, winemaking has improved beyond comprehension: less new oak, minimal lees stirring and better corks have all contributed to better wines with more consistent wines with freshness and finesse.
White wines are more sensitive to natural and artificial light than reds, and ageworthy whites are often packaged in coloured glass to protect the wine. Never buy bottles that have been on display in direct sunlight. Also, reach for a bottle that’s behind the one stocked in the front of the shelf. And don’t be afraid to ask how the wine was transported and stored. At Emile we ship everything temperature-controlled, direct from our winemakers into our warehouse where the wine is stored at a cool, consistent temperature, which is essential for ageing.
This month’s Winemaker Spotlight is on Domaine Buisson-Battault - an absolute cult figure in France, yet reasonably unknown here in the UK. We recently enjoyed wines from the 70’s and 80’s from this exceptional Domaine that were still so full of life!