Age before beauty in the world of viticulture
Every now and then a bottle of wine reaches the market with a label that says “old vines”,“vinas Viejas”, “Vignes vielles” or “alte reben”, depending on where the wine comes from. But, how does the age of the vines influence the taste and/or quality of the wine?
In the wine world, there is the misconception that the older the wine the better. This is totally wrong: some good, and even great wines, when they age they become better and better to a point where they don’t. For most wines, their taste may change a little in 3 to 8 years if they have been barrel aged, or may slightly have improved, but it is unlikely that keeping them longer than that will make any positive difference. And for young wines, and most whites and rosés, if you keep them for years you may get something much worse because their freshness will diminish.
In the case of vines, the opposite is true: when vines get older, the quality of wines produced from their grapes tend to improve considerably because old vines tend to provide more complexity and more depth. But how old is old? There is no regulation requiring on how many years the vines must be to qualify as “old vines”, that depends entirely on the producer, which is misleading because many use the term as a marketing tool to charge more for their wine. So, disregard any wine bottle marked “old vines” that does not indicate the age of the vines.
You start to see some old-vine characters when vines are around 40 years old, but to experience real depth vines should be at least 70 years old. As vines age they produce less grapes, and of smaller size, that lets more air circulate between the grapes, so less chance for illnesses; that also allows for better ripening.
Old vines also produce more concentration in the grapes as the vine drives all the nutrients to much fewer bunches and grapes. That concentration is passed to the grapes and then to the wine.
If you like complex concentrated wines, look for wines made from “real” old vines, you will pay a little more for this, but just a little, and it is worth it!