By now, if you have entered your wines into the annual WineMaker International Wine Competition, you probably have received scoresheets with feedback for each of your wines, and perhaps one or more medals.
So now is the time to sit back—glass of wine in hand—and reflect on the feedback and results. Hopefully, you can translate the feedback into actionable fine-tuning as you start to ponder next year’s submissions.
I did not have the opportunity to judge this past year’s submissions; however, based on my informal “judging” of homemade wines—while frolicking through the conference dinnertime crowd at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA—there is vast improvement. There is evident proof that home winemakers are a serious bunch about learning up-to-date techniques and improving their winemaking. Many amateur wines could in fact put some commercial wines to shame.
So winemakers have learnt to harvest their fruit at what is called “phenolic ripeness,” i.e. grapes are harvested not only based on numbers but also on ripeness of flavors and tannins in order to create better balanced wines, and to better manage oxidation in the cellar.
But going back to the tips I shared in this blog back in May 2009, I’m still seeing superbly well-crafted wines that are simply not ready for tasting or consumption for a lack of sufficient aging. Yes, home winemakers are quite an impatient bunch.
Very young wines tend to be one-dimensional with closed-in aromas and muted flavors and perhaps quite tannic. Many of the ones I tried tasted like overripe grape juice. These would all benefit from some aging. The aging period all depends on the type of wine: Early-drinking wines will probably need a minimum of 6 months of aging while fuller-bodied wines will need 12–18 months or more. Kit wines will need less time while those from grapes generally need more time.
I often share my most memorable experience while discussing wine aging. In 1999, I had made a “good” full-bodied, oak-aged Cab Sauv from California grapes. The wine was well-balanced and showing good varietal character and I was hesitantly predicting that it would be a “great” wine. I racked the wine every 6 months from one barrel to another. After 2 years, I transferred the wine to demijohns and then racked the wine again every 6 months for the next year. All along, the wine smelled and tasted good, but not what I would call an exceptional wine.
At what seemed like the third anniversary of the wine and as I was preparing to bottle the wine, I tasted the wine again and that’s when I jubilantly reacted, “WOW!” Almost overnight, there was an incredible transformation from a good to a superb wine. The aromas of chocolate, berries, spices, shaved wood, and leather were jumping out like school kids at recess. And the flavors confirmed those hedonistic aromas, all in a well-balanced and structured wine. My friends could not believe the wine as I would often insert it into a blind tasting with other premium commercial wines.
And now, more than 10 years later and with only a few bottles left, I savor every bottle with the only regret of not having made enough because this wine could last another 10 years easily.
Clearly, it pays to be patient with those affectionately nurtured wines that have the structure and body to age gracefully. So set aside a batch and taste a bottle every so often to see how it is evolving and aging. Keep meticulous tasting notes to remind you of how the wine tasted. You will undoubtedly be surprised by the effects of graceful aging.
Patience will reward you with many medals.
Cheers, and see you all in Santa Barbara in 2011, and good luck with your submissions.