For most of us, opening old vintage wine is a once in a lifetime experience. Here are some things we learned while opening 40 year old wine.

Get ready for a few surprises!

The wine of the night was a 1979 Diamond Creek Cabernet, but can we open it?

Opening a 40 Year Old Bottle of Wine

It’s not as easy as you think. Here are some things we learned about old vintage wine.

1. The cork is super fragile

Opening an old bottle of wine is difficult with a standard wine opener. Why? Well the cork becomes very fragile (and soaked with wine!) as it ages. You’re going to need something far more specialized because the cork is fragile (and usually soaked with wine!). Some wine professionals recommend an opener called an Ah-So, although you could also use a Coravin.

2. Old wine is rated by its “shoulder level”

Over time, wine evaporates through the cork of the bottle. This is especially true in dry climates. Some older bottle of wine will have a reduced amount of wine inside the bottle. The best condition is if the wine goes up to the neck of the bottle. Then, “high shoulder” is when the bottle is filled to just below the neck as the bottle expands outward. And finally, the worst condition is anything at “low shoulder” and below.

With more air exposure inside the bottle, wines will rapidly age and go bad. So, keep this in mind next time you’re perusing auctions on Spectrum, Winebid, or K&L.

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3. Red wine can age past 40 years!?

Surprise surprise! During the tasting, even Jackson Rohrbaugh, the Master Sommelier, was impressed by the quality of the old wine. He was so impressed his first taste left him speechless!

So, what makes a wine age-worthy? Well, for this particular bottle of Diamond Creek “Red Rock Terrace” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from 1979, there were several factors:

  • Acidity: The wine had higher acidity. It’s possible that this wine when it came out tasted pretty tart!
  • Tannin: Those astringent, mouth-drying tannins soften and become more leathery with age.
  • Fruit: Originally, this wine must have had loads of tart red and black fruit flavors because it still had them at 42 years old!
  • Balanced Alcohol: Today, most Napa Valley wines range between 14%–15% alcohol by volume. What was so surprising about the 1979 was that the label listed that it only had 12.4% ABV! That is pretty light-bodied by today’s
    standards.

Old Vintage Wine: Hype or Ripe?

It doesn’t seem possible that a dry red wine can age more than 20 years, let alone 40! I think the entire group including the winemaker, master somm, collector, and author were all surprised and delighted at how good the old wine tasted. This is especially true for a region like Napa Valley which is constantly under scrutiny from Europe for making “fruity young” wines.

One question that arose while everyone was tasting was whether or not the young, 2018 vintage would age as long. The group was divided.

Only time will tell!

By the way, there are some secrets to buying wines that age well.