Old vines will, over time, have developed a larger root system to absorb more of the water and other essential elements the plant needs to thrive. But they also tend to be less vigorous and produce fewer bunches of grapes. So each grape gets more nutrition than it would in a younger vine where it would have to compete with many more berries for its share of the available food. Result: more flavoursome grapes leading to better quality wine.
But, before you go out to look for Old Vine wines, a word of warning: there is no legal definition of what constitutes an ‘old’ vine. The vine pictured above (in a vineyard in Galicia in North-West Spain) is said to be over a 100 years old and is still producing commercially. No-one would argue that that is truly an old vine, but when does ‘old’ begin?
Grapes can be used to make wine once the vine is 3 years old but many winemakers feel that vines don’t start producing their best fruit until they are at least 10 years old. From then on, depending on conditions and assuming the vine remains disease-free, it will generally produce a good crop until somewhere between about 20 and 35 years old, after which the number of bunches will gradually start to reduce. For me, it is at this point that it really becomes an Old Vine.
You don’t always have to pay a lot for a good example: Tesco’s Finest Old Vine Garnacha from the Navarra region of Spain is just £6.99 and claims to be the product of more than 40 year old vines. It is beautifully smooth and mellow with pleasant red fruits and hints of spice. A great accompaniment to some grilled lamb chops.
And while on the subject of Tesco, thank you to a regular reader for reminding me that, in my last blog, ‘Try before you Buy’, I forgot to mention that Tesco’s Wine Fair is coming to Bristol on 1 and 2 November. If you’re attending on the Sunday, come and have a chat – I’ll be on the Wine and Spirit Education Trust stand. And, if you’re not in Bristol, check Tesco’s website, because the Fair is visiting a number of places around the country and may be close to you at some other time.