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How to Care for and Serve Old Red Wine

Wine has a long journey from when it’s made to when it’s tasted. It may take years for it to reach its peak of maturity. At this point, it will be more complex and have more flavours than when it was new. It may take decades for this to happen.

This article discusses ways to make your wine taste its best and enjoy it fully.

How to Care for Old Red Wines

If you’ve just received a bottle of wine, let it sit for a few days to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom and the wine to regain balance.

The age of the wine determines how long this takes. A 20-year-old wine should recover its composure within a week or two, while a 30-year-old wine may need up to a month. For a wine over 40 years old, let it sit for four to six weeks–or until it becomes clear.

Once you have opened your wine, it should be served as soon as possible. Wines that are left open will start to turn cloudy and will eventually become unusable. To check the condition of your wine, you can use a small flashlight to shine through it.

Wines will turn cloudy once the sediment has settled to the bottom of the bottle. This will happen over time, so drinking your wine as soon as possible after opening it is important.

When Decanting Old Wines

When pouring an old wine, we usually recommend decanting it because it releases the clear wine. The sediment is left at the bottom of the bottle. This skill can be learned through experience, but the basic technique is to hold a candle under the bottle’s neck or shoulder and watch the wine flow through the neck. But in the old days, a candle was the best light choice.

If possible, it’s a good idea to decant an old wine before opening it. This is outlined in the article below. If it’s impossible to do so, or if the wine has been lying in your cellar, you can gently remove it from the bin.

You can rotate the bottle gradually so the sediment is disturbed as little as possible or keep the bottle horizontal and pour from this position. You may want a carrier or cradle to do this.

If you’re having trouble removing sediment from wine or the cork won’t come off, you can try pouring the wine through unbleached cheesecloth or muslin—or using a funnel with a sieve built-in. You may also want a cork puller on hand to remove cork that breaks or doesn’t come off with a regular corkscrew.

Should Old Red Wine Breathe?

Some believe that old red Burgundy is too delicate to drink and should only be decanted for a short period. Experienced Nebbiolo drinkers, on the other hand, believe that wine stored in a decanter for a few hours or even a few days can result in a higher quality drink.

Decant your wine when you’re comfortable with what you’re doing. What has worked in the past is usually a good guide. And, of course, what makes you happy is the essential factor.

When Receiving Old Madeiras

A wine that just arrived on Madeira should rest. Standing up is, of course, fine. Age doesn’t really matter as much as when the wine was bottled. As casks of more recent Madeira get scarce, more wine is being bottled with a bottling date on the back label.

If the Madeira wine is within the past four or five years, it may not need much time to recover from shipping. But if the wine has been in the bottle for decades, it may take months to regain its clarity and balance.

Understanding Madeira and Air

The Madeiras prefer oxygenated air, so they are often decanted early to remove sediment and allow more oxygen to reach the wine. Because they spend so many years in a barrel with lots of oxygen, Madeiras often need more air to open up after they are bottled.

If you’re serving wine in a bottle for a certain time, give it a day or two in the decanter before you drink it. A wine that’s been in a bottle for two or three years will show its best qualities after just a few hours of breathing, but a wine that’s been in a bottle for the 1970s will ideally be decanted three or four days before serving. 

And don’t worry about giving an old wine too much air; once opened, it will drink beautifully for months, if not years. Just put a cork in the bottle, and revisit it again and again.

How to Store Madeira

Wine is a delicate drink – store it properly to keep it fresh. Madeiras are prone to cork deterioration, so keep them standing up to protect them. Wine comes in 3 bottle-size variations, and they’re filled with different amounts of wine. If you aren’t sure what size to buy, check the glass topper.

When to Serve Madeira

The ideal time to serve Madeiras is after they’ve been opened and breathed. Decanting should be done when the wine is settling and not disturbed. If your bottle has a cork, leave it in the bottle; you don’t have to take it out.

The optimum drinking temperature for Madeira is between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower temperatures feel good on the throat, but it might take hours for the wine to budge. Lower temperatures also open up the wine faster.

Drinking Madeira

Allow Madeiras to breathe for at least one hour before drinking. When you open a bottle, allow it to breathe for at least three hours and as much as six hours, which can be improved by opening a window and letting the wine breathe. Around a year after opening, a bottle of Madeira might need just one or two hours.

If you’re serving wine, give it sufficient time to breathe and allow it to warm up to a higher temperature before serving, such as at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You may want to use a warmer to warm up your wine if you’re serving it at something other than room temperature.

When tasting a great Madeira, you’ll notice the fruit flavours—jammy and ripe, with hints of citrus and a touch of alcoholic notes. They don’t have a harsh taste and often have a slight sweetness.

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