Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Taste test shows wines under $20 don't age well

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Every once in a while the wines pile up here at Uncorked headquarters (read: my basement), and the occasional bottle or two (or more) get lost in the shuffle. Such was the case, I discovered, with a couple of wines I unearthed while tidying up my office space.

The discoveries were the Gallo Family Vineyards 2007 White Zinfandel and the Dan Aykroyd 2007 Discovery Series Cabernet-Shiraz. I recall picking up the Dan Aykroyd wine a couple of years ago when the former Ghostbuster/Blues Brother came through town -- while I didn't meet Mr. Aykroyd, I happened upon some signed bottles at my neighbourhood Liquor Mart and grabbed one. As for the Gallo White Zinfandel, I can't verify when or how it ended up in my basement.

I thought it would be instructive to taste these wines against their current iterations to see what happens to these kinds of wines with age. My wine learnin' over the years led me to believe the wines would lack balance, lose their intensity of fruit and generally fall apart -- and I was mostly right.

A good base rule is that most wines under $20 are meant to be drunk within about a year of release -- age it in the car on the way home, as I used to say in my wine-store-working days. As white wines and rosés age, they get darker in colour -- white wines in particular take on a goldish-brown hue. Reds, meanwhile, get lighter in colour, and develop a brick-brown tone, especially around the edges of the glass. In fact, a wine's colour tends to concentrate in the centre of the glass, leaving the edges of the wine looking watery.

Aromatically, wines lose their freshness, and often pick up stewed, oxidative qualities when they're too old. In red wines, the fruit often fades and gets lost behind the mouth-drying tannin. Sometimes this tannin softens with age, but often in the $20-and-below range it's at a slower rate than the fruit, and the wine essentially dries up.

Back to my discoveries -- I tasted the 2007 Gallo White Zinfandel against the current 2011 release. The first noticeable difference was in colour -- the 2007 was very deep pink and fading around the edges, while the 2011 was a much paler, bright pink. Aromatically, the older vintage delivered strawberry candy and raspberry pie filling notes on the nose, with a confected, almost-stewed note. The 2011 had fresher red berry notes that were less clunky, for lack of a better term, with a pretty floral note as well.

Taste-wise, the older and newer White Zins couldn't be more different. The fruit on the 2007 was muted, and the sweetness quite overpowering and unattractive. The current vintage, meanwhile, brought fresh fruit and less sweetness and acidity with a lighter, fresher texture. For $8.99 (Liquor Marts and beyond), it's actually not too bad a drink. (Did I just say that about White Zinfandel? My wine-writing street cred might be revoked.)

Over to Mr. Aykroyd's wine. The most recent vintage of the Discovery Series Cabernet-Shiraz is 2009 ($14.99, Liquor Marts and beyond), and it's interesting to note the VQA designation went from Niagara Peninsula in 2007 to the wider Ontario appellation on the newer bottle. It doesn't mean it's worse, it's simply an indication fruit is being sourced from areas beyond the Niagara Peninsula.

Like the older Gallo bottling, the colour is more concentrated in the centre of the glass, although this wine still looks fairly lively -- it hasn't developed the brick colour older reds take on. The 2009, meanwhile, actually has a hint of brown to the colour -- could both these reds be too old?

On the nose, the older vintage brings plum, cherry, light earth, barnyard, cassis and ash notes, while the newer vintage is more complex and fruit-forward, with perfume, plum, tarry/smoky, blackcurrant and black cherry aromas.

It's in the flavours where the older and newer vintages really go their separate ways. The fruit flavours of the 2007 Cabernet-Shiraz are quite muted and tired, with black tea and cherry skin flavours accentuating the dry tannin. There's some cooked red berry flavours in there too, and the acidity here is too intense for what's left of the fruit notes in the bottle.

The newer bottle is medium-plus bodied and brings slightly brighter fruit flavours. The acidity borders on too high here, but manages to accentuate (rather than overpower) raspberry and cherry flavours. Some leafy, smoky, and white pepper notes make this a pretty decent red for the price that should most definitely be drunk now -- I'd venture the newer vintage only has a few months left before it gets too old.

Have a quick look through any wines you have at home -- if they were $20 or less and were bought before 2010, I'd suggest drinking them sooner rather than later. Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 E4

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