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Is Centuries-Old Wine Still Drinkable?

Food and Drink RealClearLife Staff
(Bouchard Père & Fils)
(Bouchard Père & Fils)

The famous Burgundy wine producer Bouchard Père and Fils will be auctioning off a collection of old vintages in Hong Kong on Sept. 3. Some of the bottles go back as far as 1846 and 1865, which begs the question: Are these very old wines still top quality, or are they more of a trophy for collectors? We asked Christian Albouy, CEO of Bouchard Père & Fils.

The oldest vintage in your auction is 1846. Even with the best possible storage conditions, what impact do all those years have on wine quality?All the bottles are of remarkable quality, and that includes the 1846 Meursault Charmes. We store our entire collection in cellars (built in the 15th century) protected from light, at a natural temperature range of 50-57 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity level is a natural 50-75 percent, which prevents the corks from drying out and becoming porous which would lead to oxidation. We also check our bottles regularly and replace the corks every 25-30 years, which gives us an opportunity to monitor the quality of the wine.

Can the quality of an 1846 or 1865 wine still increase if a buyer decided to continue the aging process, or has it reached its peak at that age?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, but it does seem possible in optimal storage conditions. It’s the oxygen dissolved in the wine which will slowly and steadily change and possibly improve the wine. The main threats to wine conservation are oxidation and the effect of ultraviolet rays from daylight. Red wines are easier to preserve because of their anthocyanin and tannin content. A wine’s vintage is also a very important factor. The content of sugar can play a part, as can the level of alcohol which protects the wine against microorganisms.

Which regions’ wines hold up best against the passing of time?
In terms of the appellations that can be found in the upcoming sale, it could be argued that the red wines from the southern part of the Côte de Beaune area (Beaune Grève Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus, Volnay, Pommard, and Corton) are in a slightly stronger position than the wines from the Côte de Nuits area. But Chambertin, Romanée and Vosne-Romanée wines also have exceptionally good aging potential. The vinification and bottling processes have a very significant impact on aging potential.

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The auction, which has been organized in partnership with Christie’s, will comprise 220 lots, including 2,000 bottles of vintage wine ranging from 1846 to 2009. Bouchard Père and Fils is a highly renowned vineyard in Burgundy, eastern France, and one of the oldest wine businesses in Beaune, the capital of Burgundy wine. It produces a variety of appellations, including the top Burgundy wines Corton-Charlemagne and Meursault Perrières. The vineyard covers a total of 130 hectares, including 12 hectares of Grands Crus and 74 hectares of Premiers Crus.

—Relaxnews