Tasting Young Full Bodied Red Wine


# **Tasting young, full-bodied red wine** A note about tasting young, full-bodied red wine like Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. While there is no hard and fast rule here, it is safe to say that most premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines are not meant to be drunk within two years of the harvest. For quality red wine, it is common for it to spend 16-24 months in barrels of which a significant percentage is new oak, typically French or American. The barrels come from cooperages and the cost is significant. A top-end, tight-grained barrel of French oak will cost around USD 1,400, a medium quality French oak barrel around USD 800-1000 while American oak barrels often cost USD 500-600. Moreover, the oak barrel imparts most of the flavor during the first time it is used and it is considered "neutral oak" after the third vintage. Though some winemakers, keep their wines in an affordable price range by shaving out used oak barrels for more oak flavor also from used barrels. A typical barrel of wine used by a boutiqe winery will hold 225 liter of wine so the cost is fairly significant. Even more so for some high-end wineries like **[Bryant Family Vineyard](https://bryant.estate/)** who may put their high-end wine through 200% oak. They first pour the wine into a brand new French oak barrel for a year and then pump over the wine into another brand new French oak barrel for maximum oak tannin extraction. Given the cost of new quality oak barrels, winemakers will generally not put wine that is meant to be consumed at a very young age in new oak barrels, at least not all of it. In fact, it can become an almost overpowering experience to drink a young red wine matured in 100% oak, especially if the oak is American. I was at **[Penfolds](https://www.penfolds.com/)** in The Barossa in January 2020 and I tried a young **[Grange](https://www.penfolds.com/en-au/wines/the-penfolds-collection)** together with **[RWT](https://www.penfolds.com/en-au/wines/the-penfolds-collection)** and a number of other premium Penfolds wines. Grange is priced at AUD 900 and is matured for 18 months in 100% new American oak. It was like being hit in the face with a wooden plank to taste it young. A wine like that simply needs time for the tannins to soften and for the oak to “integrate” as they say in the wine industry. Red wine meant to be drunk at a young age, typically receives a much less expensive oak treatment. A great example of this is the “Squid Ink” range of wines made by **[III Associates](https://www.mclarenvaleiiiassociates.com.au/)** in McLaren Vale that I also visited on my trip to 10 wineries across The Barossa and McLaren Vale. They have **[Giant Squid Ink ](https://www.mclarenvaleiiiassociates.com.au/our-wines/wine/2018-giant-squid-ink-shiraz-new-release/)**(AUD 180), **[Squid Ink ](https://www.mclarenvaleiiiassociates.com.au/our-wines/wine/2019-squid-ink-shiraz-new-release/)**(AUD 65) and **[Descendant of Squid Ink ](https://www.mclarenvaleiiiassociates.com.au/our-wines/wine/2020-the-descendant-of-squid-ink-shiraz/)**(AUD 43). The name Squid Ink being a reference to the very dark, almost black color of the wine. I asked one of the owners what the difference between the wines were and he simply said: "We put the very best fruit into the Giant Squid Ink and we mature it for 30 months in 50% new French oak, 10% new American oak and 40% older oak. For Squid Ink and Descendant of Squid Ink, it is the same juice but the oak treatment is different. For Squid Ink, it is 18 months in 65% new American oak and for the Descendent of Squid Ink, it is 9 months in four-year old neutral American oak." The description for Descendant of Squid Ink reads: "'The Descendant of Squid Ink’ is essentially the younger sibling of the ‘Squid Ink’ range. It represents a style that is more about expression of fruit with a minimal influence of oak and is a wine to be enjoyed in a more youthful state. This fruit driven style has becoming more popular in recent years from all growing districts around Australia." - So this is a wine that is designed to be ready to be consumed as soon as it goes into the bottle. It is fruity and pleasant but lacking in depth, intensity and complexity. This gives you a very good feel for how winemakers think. Expensive red wine has typically spent a longer time maturing in the oak barrels and a higher percentage of the barrels used are new. As you saw above, French oak is more expensive than American oak and in the case of III Associates, they reserve the new French oak treatment for their most expensive wine. There is one more piece to the puzzle, namely when the wines are released as wines continue to develop in the bottle as well. As of 2020, III Associates are offering their 2019 Descendant of Squid Ink, their 2018 Squid Ink and their 2016 Giant Squid Ink. Holding back bottles of wine has a working capital implication that translates to a higher price point.  The above is relevant for the private label wine market that largely operates as a flash sale model with the wines being released earlier, under private labels, compared to if the wine had been held back to be released under the wineries’ own brands. So what should you expect if you do decide to open a top quality Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, with a high percentage new oak shortly after it has been bottled (e.g. at an age of 2-2.5 years)? The below **[charts](https://www.bkwine.com/features/more/assessing-wine-quality-ageing-potential-wine-pursuit-perfectly-mature-wine/)** from Mattias Schyberg give a very good description of what to expect from a young red wine with good aging potential versus from a mature red wine at its peak: image1-wineaging-schyberg Young wine with good aging potential will do what the young Penfolds Grange that I tasted in January 2020 did to me. It will smack you right in the mouth with the intensity of the tannins and the high acidity. It will feel unbalanced, it will lack complexity and it will drop dead rapidly as there is no length to the tasting experience - it falls flat off your tongue and just stops rather than linger around. It is not a particularly pleasant experience but that does not mean it is a bad wine, just that time needs to work its magic for the wine to mature. Professional "en primeur" **[wine buyers ](https://www.decanter.com/features/steven-purrier-s-guide-to-tasting-young-wine-245893/)**often like to know the provenance of very young wines as the pedigree of the winemaker is important as well as having a general understanding of the growing conditions for a particular year; just tasting the wine blind is not enough until it has matured further. As a simple rule of thumb, I would recommend that you open your first bottle of full-bodied red wine no earlier than +3 years from the harvest and the wine is likely to begin to drink well from harvest +4 years. Occasionally, you’ll find full-bodied red wine that is pleasant at a younger age and then often due to various winemaking techniques aimed at making the wine accessible at a younger age including micro-oxygenation, less new oak and various fining processes essentially custom “photo shopping” a wine. For now, suffice to say that they typically represent a tradeoff whereby the aging potential of the wine is sacrificed in favor of early accessibility.  by Andreas Birnik