Two friends asked for an explanation of a comment I made a few weeks ago that most white wines should be consumed as young as possible.
Both said they knew of no white wines that are better when older.
I told them that many whites are best with age. Both then asked for proof.
As a starter, I said very few American white wines should be aged for very long. Most of our wines don’t have the proper acidity — the one element that’s essential for any wine to improve over time.
Here are some classic examples of wines to age:
— Dry Riesling: Whether from Germany, Alsace, New York, or Australia, these wines usually pick up a trace of mild petroleum in their distinctive aromas and offer astounding compatibility for Asian foods.
Despite the word “dry” in their title, almost all have a trace of residual sugar and that permits them to retain a bit of succulence that moderates their austerity. I simply adore these wines with bottle age.
— French White Burgundy: These chardonnays can be remarkably complex when they are young, but many do not develop their full range of flavors until they are a decade old.
Years ago, a dedicated Francophile wrote to me of these wines: “I’m sure you have tasted great old White Burgundies,” which he called “glorious examples of wine at its best.”
Such wines typically are expensive. Few California wines are made to emulate French white Burgundy.
One such chardonnay that always wins aging contests is from Napa Valley’s Stony Hill Winery. The typical Stony Hill chardonnay rarely shows any oak in the aroma or taste and typically ages 10 to 15 years. A few can even go longer.
— Semillon: One of my favorite white wines with bottle age is semillon from Australia, typically from the Hunter Valley.
This lower-alcohol wine has a shy aroma with hints of figs and perhaps dried hay when it’s young. As it ages, however, a great old semillon gains an aroma of lanolin, tobacco leaf, or even a Havana cigar. Sounds odd, but it can be fascinating.
— Dry white Bordeaux: a semillon-based wine that often has sauvignon blanc added. The best are expensive, and can be marvelous experiences with the proper time in a cellar.
Other white wines that do nicely with a bit of age are some of the white wines of the Loire Valley, notably Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre, as well as Savennieres.
The two former wines are made from sauvignon blanc and are usually austere when young; the latter is a chenin blanc that takes on a fascinating melon-like aroma with age.
Unless you know what you are doing, and have a trained palate that can understand old white wine, the best bet is to drink ‘em young.
Wine of the Week: 2016 Concha y Toro Sauvignon Blanc, Gran Reserva, Colchagua Valley ($15): No aging necessary to enjoy this delightful Chilean wine with its bright melon, citrus and leafy notes. However, I have tasted 5-year-old examples that were marvelously complex. They were not as fruity as when they were young, but remarkably tasty.