Cellaring Wine: A Winemaker’s Perspective

Oh my goodness, where do I start? Well, let’s start at the end. How do we know when it is time to stop aging a wine?  It’s a simple answer: when it is no longer improving or evolving in a positive way—ie it is “over the hill”. 

The problem is our severe lack of time machines—we can’t know when it is over the hill until it is. So…let’s back up and start at the beginning.

The way a wine tastes when it is released is, in the mind of the winemaker, its pinnacle of primary (from the grape) and secondary (from the cellar) flavours. In the bottle the wine evolves creating tertiary flavours. Tannins continue to complex creating a softer mouthfeel, barrel flavours and notes of stewed fruit and caramel come to the fore and fresh fruit flavours step back a bit.

Here personal preference comes to play. Many people cherish the nuances of older red wines. The job of the winemaker is to predict these changes and accommodate them in a way that retains the balance we seek in wine. Too much new oak contact, while racy and yummy in a new wine, can mean little fruit and an oak plank finish in a wine with a few years under its belt.

In old-world regions this balancing act is easier—there is a predictability that comes from centuries of wine-growing and wine-making. Experts can tell you exactly what to expect from a 60-year-old burgundy. Here in the Okanagan we find that our assumptions are tested with each vintage.

In the early 2000’s we began to realize that age-ability was increasing with the age of the grapevines and we are now reluctant to make predictions and try to allow wines to show us their aging capacity.

This leaves us to the whims of trial & error—we need to store and open/taste frequently to chronicle the aging process.  It’s a tough job, sure, but we rely on our customers to help us out with that.

Hillside maintains a Library Reserve in our climate-controlled warehouse, which was started in 2008. It contains varieties of interest–notably our Mosaic and the Merlots from our Single Vineyard Series and some fun surprises.  We periodically assess and offer small quantities for sale to our Bistro and Wine Club and relish the feedback we get from you.

We would be thrilled to have you explore the many unique nuances that our older vintages have to offer.

Kathy Malone signature
Kathy Malone, Winemaker

Kathy Malone