Curious Small Sips #12: Old Vines

Old vines in a Tinta de Toro vineyard, Bodega ViñaGuareña, Toro, Spain. © Bodega ViñaGuareña.

Vine age can be estimated by simply observing the width of the trunk and is considered an important factor in wine quality with the consensus being that old vines — a hazy term not defined anywhere except in the Barossa (but generally meaning plants at least 20-30 years old) — make the best wine. Is it true? Well, kind of. Gnarled, twisted old grapevines, because of their much-reduced yields (vineyards’ output peaks at around 20 years, after which it declines with each vintage), do give more concentrated, flavoursome juice than their younger, more vigorous counterparts.

Terroir enthusiasts claim, too, that the deeper roots of mature vines absorb much-prized ‘minerality’ into wines and in fact boasting of vine age is an important part of marketing, particularly in France where wines bearing the immortal words Vielles Vignes is commonplace and has been adopted for labelling in places such as Australia and California.

Vine age may not truly be a marker for quality, however, as was discovered to France’s chagrin in the world famous blind tasting in Paris in 1976 which pitted California Cabernets and Chardonnays against red Bordeaux and white Burgundies. The eventual winner ( Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap) came out on top against Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild 1970 and Haut-Brion 1970 even though the vines were just three years old. All said, the key to wine quality is, probably, restricting yields –– which can be achieved many ways –– and not just by the ‘old vines’ route.

Image: Old vines in a Tinta de Toro vineyard, Bodega ViñaGuareña, Toro, Spain. © Bodega ViñaGuareña.

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