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Enjoying a Vidiano 2013 (a white wine grape variety widely cultivated in Crete), suddenly I realized that it was not "fresh". My wine however looked alive in the glass, having started to slowly aromatically open and having lost neither its chromatic intensity nor the characteristics of the variety and its rich body.
I began to think about a common misconception, that drinking a white wine from a past vintage should be avoided. That white wine cannot in fact be aged well. In practice as we shall see, many white wine varieties seem to resist or even encourage aging and so we will discuss whether a white wine of previous harvests or even aged for several years is not just drinkable, but often offers an excellent result!
The answer is 'tannin'. Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside certain parts of the grape. Specifically, tannins are found in the skins, the seeds and the stems of grapes. Tannins release compounds into the grape juice when they soak after the grapes have been pressed. The longer these parts of the grape soak in the juice, the more compounds are released, the more 'tannic' the wine will be. Since red wines are soaked for longer periods of time so that the skins of the grape may give more colour to the wine, they are naturally more tannic than white wines. This is important when it comes to aging wine, because tannins are also a natural antioxidant and help prevent the wine from spoiling. So common logic says that red wines will age well, and white wines will not, but is this true?
White wines have little to no contact with the skins, seeds and stems of the grape and have very little tannin in comparison with most red wines. White wines will therefore not age as well or as long as red wines. This is not to say however that white wines cannot be aged at all.
We might choose to age a white wine for the same reason we age a red, to obtain better flavors, more aromatic complexity and a greater harmony as a whole!
The color gradually deepens and at a certain point it acquires light brown tones due to the inevitable oxidation. Theoretically the aromatic intensity weakens and it may lose some of its fruit characteristics and no longer seem so fresh and alive.
All of the above seems to confirm the common knowledge that white wine varieties are vinified to be consumed fresh, within one year or a little more at most. But there are some white varieties with strength, intensity, body, acidity and depth that when combined with the winemaking style of individual winemakers can produce whites that easily support spending some time in your cellar.
In reference to Greece we will mention the varieties of Malagouzia, Assyrtiko, Savvatiano, Vidiano, Roditis, Chardonnay and Moschofilero but there are more. These varieties have the aforementioned characteristics and they certainly support aging of anywhere from one year up until ten years in some cases.
The vinsanto wines made on Santorini from Assyrtiko are already considered a valuable aged white and no one would refuse the aged 2013 Malagouzia that we recently tested and were very pleasantly surprised. Aged barrel Chardonnay accompanies dishes at the best restaurants all over the world, many being among the most expensive white wines. Although they may have completely lost their characteristic colour, they retain a harmonious aromatic and delicious complexity and depth. The same stands for Rieslings which age with great ease.
Tastings and master classes with vertical white vintage trials often take place proving what we have studied and write. I was taught in practice with my fantastic Vidiano. Therefore, when you are offered a white wine of previous vintage with your food, think again before you refuse it out of hand, someone may have cared for your enjoyment!
Assyrtiko: 5-8 years, sometimes even 10 years. Assyrtiko wines may reveal their best when their acidity is given a period of time to develop.
Malagouzia: The now famous grape variety that Greek wine makers bet on and won! Malagouzia may be consumed up to 6 years after its production.
Savvatiano - Roditis - Moschofilero - Vidiano: All these varieties may be pleasantly drunk 1-3 years after bottling (many of them even longer), remaining essentially unaltered.
Barrel aged Chardonnay: The barrel aging helps add extra tannin to the wine and they may be aged for 5-10 years increasing their power and rich body.
Sauvignon Blanc - Riesling: Within five years (maybe a little longer for some Riesling) will give us a wonderful flavour and complexity to their aromas that will constantly evolve.
Chenin Blanc: Up to 10 years, while there are many cases that give us great wines over a decade.
Here are only some indicative suggestions for Greek whites that will age gracefully.
Let them sit in your cellar for a year or more and be ready for a amazing and special surprise!
You may explore more in our complete selection of Greek white wines.