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What Does Fifty-Year-Old Wine and Beyond Taste Like?

04/20/2015 02:51 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2015

What does wine aged over 50 years taste like?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Answer by Damon Levy, COO of Vine Connections (wine importer)

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I have only had a few bottles of wine over 50 years old but it is always [memorable] because the sensual experience is enhanced by the ruminations on what was happening when the wine was made. From a tasting perspective, I have had a bunch of wines from the 60s and I think that experience is similar.

I was fortunate to taste 70 year old Sauternes from one of the top producers. It was amazing -- instead of flavors of tropical fruit or flowers, it tasted of caramel, honey, nuts, and dark citrus compote. Having also tasted 50-year Sauternes from top producers, the difference is the relative focus on caramel and nuttiness versus the citrus flavor. I have tasted a couple of red wines from the 50s and they were hit and miss. One was fascinating -- an old Barolo with high acidity, a little dried cherry fruit, and lots of tar and roses. The other was gone, just tasteless.

In general, my experience around older wines is that they are ephemeral. Even if you can drink them over a long period of time like the great Barolo I tasted (i.e. they don't oxidize quickly), they evolve in the glass rapidly. You have to savor each moment with the glass. The other generalization I would make is that old wines don't develop "new" flavors, the enunciation of those flavors just changes. A young wine will be full of rich fruit while the old wine will have that fruit in the background.

For wines prior to the 1960s, the biggest issue is that there are not a lot of pristine, well-stored bottles. The occasional bottle is usually sourced directly from a winery that has held back wines for their own cellar.

If you are looking for wines over 50 years old, the first place to look is sweet or fortified wines. Madeira is your best bet for a wine that will taste as it is intended by the winery. Vintage ports are also a great opportunity to taste a wine that is unique, old, and still strong. If they have been stored well, sweet wines from Sauternes, the Mosel (eisweins), Banyuls, Jura could all be amazing experiences. Occasionally you might have a chance to taste a 50+ year old red wine from Bordeaux, Barolo, Burgundy, or the Northern Rhone... but it depends a lot on vintage and storage. If you can find a 1947 Bordeaux (that isn't fake), enjoy! Personally, I wouldn't go out and purchase 50+ year old red wine because there is too much risk around storage and whether it is genuine... but I wouldn't turn it down!

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