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What's the Deal with "Old Vine" Wines?

Posted January 15, 2015

Ian Dorin

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Today we’re taking about a topic that I adore, and something that has come up a lately in the store: Vine age. What does it mean? What exactly does age do to a grape vine, and is it always a good thing?

Vines presumably age like humans (please, no jokes). They get older, wiser, and generally better. One of the variables though (again, much like humans), is that the total output drops off. This typically ends up being a net positive for the winemakers since the decreased production leads to more concentrated fruit, and ultimately a higher quality wine. It’s important to note, though, that just like “natural” wine, there is nothing governing the use of the term “old vine” on a label.

Want some examples?

Here are 3 wines that we have that fit what we are talking about.

2008 Finca Abril Malbec 1922

Why is the wine called 1922? I'll give you one guess… Yes, the Malbec vines were planted then. This was a super find for us last year. The wine is highly expressive (one quality well trained old vines will exhibit) and complex, and is a truly amazing value for this price. It's rare to see old vines at this price point, but truly outstanding wine that punches over it's weight class.

2012 Domaine Du Murinais Crozes Hermitage Vieilles Vignes

Anyone wanna guess what Vieilles Vignes means? Another affordable offering (yeah!) that really adds a lot of depth of terroir character to the wine. When vines get old (and are well trained), the roots go deep. Very deep. So when you are a rocky terrain like Crozes Hermitage, the vines are digging a lot of that earth flavor out of the ground.

2011 Joseph Roty Charmes Chambertin Tres Vieilles Vignes

Who was the president in 1885? That's how old these vines are. Here is where you see the merging of both of the wines above. With roots that are crazy deep into the limestone below, this wine is laced with earth flavors throughout, and shows an unreal complexity of natural character. It’s an example, but seriously one of the single most interesting wines in the store. Could you imagine if you made it to 126 years old? These vines probably have some awesome stories!

So when is it not a good time to have older vines?

One of the best examples is Champagne, where high output from the vines is a good thing (acidity is key in the production of Champagne, and unlike other regions of the world, high yields is a good thing here to help create that). So wines like, say Jose Dhondt’s Blanc de Blanc, are highly impractical and uneconomical since they rely on a smaller yield. Another place would be in broad market goods. Volume brands. When the vines get older, the production goes down, so doesn't make the best sense to keep those around.

Me? I'm a fan of vines with some stories...

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With over 15 years of experience (and counting), Ian has risen to become Wine Director for the Wine Library. He also been featured in the Wall St. Journal, and has regularly been quoted in a variety of wine articles.

 
STORY TO CART
Product Label.

Jose Dhondt Blanc De Blancs...

91 Antonio Galloni - Vinous


Item: 52977

750 mL

Retail: $62.99

$46.97 per btl

Product Label.

Joseph Roty Charmes Chambertin Tres...

96 John Gilman - View from th...


Item: 81764

750 mL

Retail: $379.99

$299.95 per btl


Item: 83009

750 mL

Retail: $34.99

$27.98 per btl

Product Label.

Domaine Du Murinais Crozes Hermitage...

92 Jeb Dunnuck - Robert Parke...


Item: 85883

750 mL

Retail: $22.00

$20.98 per btl

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