Vines are perennial and can live for over 100 years. The most productive age of vines is between 10 and 20+ years because they can bear the most fruit. The yield gradually reduces as the vines age, but at the same time, the quality of fruit increases. However, they eventually reach a point when the yield is so low that it is not economically viable to keep the vines. Therefore, most producers replant vineyards when they are between 30 and 50 years old to make sure they have an adequate quantity of quality grapes for wine production.
Vines are like people. When we’re young, we’re full of energy and like to show off. As we grow older, we usually think before we act. We may be more conservative, but we are also more knowledgeable. Similarly, wine made from young vines is fruit forward and pleasing, while wine made from old vines is more reserved in expressing the varietal character, but this is more than compensated by the texture and structure.
For even older vines like 80 to 100 years or more, they may only have one or two bunches of grapes at harvest, but these grapes are concentrated. The resulting wine is unique because it is delicate yet intense. It is more expressive of the land on which the vines are grown and has a purity that is not found in wine from younger vines. I like to compare these old-vine wines to older ladies and gentlemen who are calmer, wiser and more thoughtful. They are still full of energy, but they prefer to be subtle rather than bouncing up and down like young-vine wines.
Some wines state on the labels that they are made from old vines. Look out for the terms “Old Vine”, “Vieilles Vignes” (France), “Viñas Viejas” (Spain) and “Alte Reben” (Germany). As a rule of thumb, wineries use young vines in their entry-level, everyday drinking wines and older vines in their “reserve” ranges. Some winemakers also use a combination of young and old vines.
Old-vine wine is certainly rarer and more serious, but this doesn’t mean that wine made from young vines is inferior. In fact, most of us consume young-vine wine more often than old-vine wine. However, when you have a chance, please try to experience what these old vines can offer. Alastair Rimmer, winemaker of South Africa’s Kleine Zalze Wines, has commented that the taste profile of old-vine wine is like a pyramid – the first impression can be sharp and lean, but it gradually reveals a depth of flavour and complexity, evolving beautifully in the glass.
For more wine articles like this, like Foodie on Facebook