The time has come, it is the moment we have all been waiting for- your cellared bottle of 1990 Bordeaux has reached its optimal drinking window, and you’re eager to open it up! We get it. However, there are many factors to consider before shoving your everyday corkscrew into this special bottle. Whether you are opening the bottle solo for a little self-care or you plan to share with a crowd to commemorate a milestone, we’ve gathered everything you need to consider to open this bottle without a hitch!
The age of your bottle is the first thing to note when considering a plan of action. Uncorking the bottle is a seemingly straightforward concept, but once you puncture the cork with a standard corkscrew and force it up, you may notice it beginning to crumble. Even when stored in optimal conditions, corks will naturally dry out, much like other types of wood. Aged corks will start to crumble as you pull them from the wine bottle if you aren’t especially careful, which results in pieces of cork floating around in your high-valued, long-awaited glass of wine. It is recommended to take extra precautions when opening any bottle that has been aged over 20 years.
Optimal Storage Conditions
It is essential to consider how a bottle has been stored for the past 20+ years. A bottle of wine that has been stored in optimal conditions should provide a much smoother opening experience than one that has not. We recommend storing bottles on their side to ensure inner liquids are kept in contact with the cork in a dark, temperature and humidity-controlled environment. If you are confident in the wines’ storage conditions, by all means, pop it open! However, if you are unsure of the storage conditions during the lifetime of the bottle, an alternative opening method may be a better option. There are various tools meant to provide ease in the case that you are facing a cork that has been dried out, disturbed in transport, or has bonded to the bottle. It is our recommendation to use one of the tools mentioned below to ensure that the integrity of the cork is maintained.
Before indulging, note if the wine has been stored on its side or in an upright position. This detail plays a huge role in the amount of sediment to reach your glass. It is ubiquitous and, in fact, entirely natural for a bottle to develop sediment as it ages. Sediment is essentially a natural precipitation of tannin-anthocyanin complexes that are present in the wine. These complexes have a hand in the color and structure of a red wine, meaning it is inevitable for these complexes to begin to grow too large to remain homogeneous in the solution. When this process occurs, the compounds end up falling into the bottom of the bottle, and sediment is formed.
Establishing the way in which the bottle was stored will provide for the best drinking experience. If stored on its side, it is recommended to stand the bottle in an upright position well before you plan on opening it. This will allow the sediments to sink to the bottom of the bottle, decreasing your chances of ending up with a mouth full of anything other than wine. It may be an additional help to use a mesh strainer, wine cradle, or decanter mentioned below to lower the odds of sediment ending up in your glass.
There are a number of tools made specifically to enhance your experience while drinking back-vintage wines. As mentioned above, a decanter is a helpful tool when looking to avoid a mouthful of sediment. When pouring the wine into the decanter, use a light to see the sediment better as it reaches the neck of the bottle. When sediment reaches the neck, it is best to refrain from pouring any further. However, please note that when decanting, the wine is being exposed to an increased amount of oxygen. Use your best judgment when decanting lighter back-vintage wines, such as Burgundy. Exposing such bottles to an excess amount of oxygen may accelerate the wine past its prettiest palatable moments, which would be quite the bummer!
Another back-vintage wine staple is the ah-so wine opener. This type of opener is made for the sole purpose of preserving an aged cork and the number of challenges they may bring. The two-pronged device is fairly simple to use if you follow these steps: first, lead with the longer prong as you slide the prongs in the space between the cork and the neck of the bottle, and softly shimmy the ah-so until it can grab hold of the entire cork. Once a solid grip is achieved, twist and pull the handle in an upward motion to extract the cork.
Although the ah-so provides a much higher success rate than the average corkscrew, no method of extraction is fool-proof. We recommend the use of The Durand™, an innovative combination of both an ah-so and a traditional corkscrew! This device is perfect for stabilizing the cork as you attempt to shimmy it up in one piece. The process for cork removal is virtually the same as a traditional ah-so; however, be sure to twist in the corkscrew before inserting the prongs.
Be sure to take your time with any methods you choose to utilize when opening your back-vintage bottles. The extra time and care spent is well worth it as you’ve already waited 20+ years to enjoy it!
Benchmark Wine Group is your #1 source for back-vintage wines from all over the world-Provenance Guaranteed! Our selection is stocked full of back-vintage wines that are currently in their prime drinking window, as well as bottles perfect for cellaring in the years to come. Cheers!
Established in 2002, Benchmark Wine Group is the leading source of fine and rare wine retailers, restaurants and collectors around the world. Based in Napa Valley, we acquire the most sought-after wines from private individuals and professional contacts, but only when provenance can be verified by our team of acquisition professionals. Our staff draws on decades of industry experience and is dedicated to providing exceptional service to all of our clients. Benchmarkwine.com offers 24-hour access to our cellar, displaying inventory in real-time.