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Can Iberian White Wines Age?

A few days ago, we shared a fabulous wine and gourmet food shop for you to visit in Lisbon; however, what I failed to include in our article were the wines we tasted during our visit. Drat! I could fluff it up and tell you that the exclusion was intentional, but that would place me in a really pathetic position because it would also be a bold face lie. The fact is, is that I honestly forgot to talk about the wines, simply because I was so excited to share a fantastic foodie spot with you. Accepting my horrific failure as a wine writer, allow me the opportunity to correct my error.

Can any white wine age? I present this question because I honestly didn’t know the answer when we tasted through 3 white wines made with native Portuguese varietals that had been aged for up to 7 years. When Mafalda, co-owner of Aromas & Sabores in Lisbon, ecstatically set down the wines for us to pair with the her regional gourmet Tapas (I’m at a loss for another word being that Tapas is technically only used in Spain, but hey, I’m feeling a bit rebellious), I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until well after the meal that I began pondering the fact that I knew very little about how white wine ages.

Living in Iberia, you are privy to hearing massive generalizations on what should and should not be cellared. Here are a few examples of what we hear pretty regularly:

  • White barrel aged Riojas can absolutely be cellared for quite some time, gaining greater depth and complexity!
  • White wines like Txacoli and Alvarino need to be drunk right away so that they retain that fresh crisp quality we’ve all grown to love.
  • All fortified wines like sherry, port and madeira can wait years before being drunk.

Notice the reoccurring usage of the world “should”. Should is a fabulous word because it dictates that you are obliged to hold fast to a rule. On the home front, neither Ryan nor I have never been rigid followers of such restrictive words like “should”, “must” and “need to”; preferring to support a more flexible approach to wine preferring to use the word “experiment”.

Experimenting allows you to put on those big plastic scientist glasses that come down past your nose, a long white overcoat always containing a few shiny new pens, and the opportunity to practice your evil sinister laugh. Then sit down at a table and write down all your preconceived ideas as to what wines you “should” and “should not” age.

How’s that list coming? Included any Chardonnays, Sherries or Madeiras yet?

Then, take your experiment one step further and if you have a bit of disposable income, buy a handful of a 2007 white wine. The bottles must be identical in style, vintage and producer AND are wines that you would never consider aging in a million years. Never. Open one bottle. Taste it. Write notes on it. And then wrap that piece of paper with the date around the other wines you intend to cellar. Go up to your calendar and write a note for the exact same day next year to try another wine. Using that exact same piece of paper you used for the prior year, write your notes on second bottle and wrap it again around the remaining wines. And continue this experiment until you run out of wines.

Both Ryan and I would be excited to hear how the wines progressed, because quite honestly, the wines we tried at Sabores & Aromas would never be white wines that we would even consider aging. Consequently, it broke open a major stereotype for us that only certain Iberian white wines can age successfully.

2000 Quinta de Cabriz Escolha Virgílio Loureiro
White wine produced by Quinta de Cabriz in , Portugal
Note: Named after the winemaker who is famous for elaborating both a red and white wine at Quinta da Cabriz before moving on, I suppose, its a blended wine that is out of this world. Deep dark butter color showing strong aromas of mushroom, walnut and dried hay. Great acidity and body for its age with a nice silky round mouthfeel. On the palate, intense flavors of mushroom followed with a just a touch of lemon. An incredible wine and one I would absolutely get my hands on again if I could!

White wine produced by Alves de Sousa in Douro, Portugal
Note: Made from Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Viosinho and several other noble white grapes from the Douro, the wine was macerated for 24 hours; decanted; fermented in new oak barrels with batonnage, and finally, aged for 6 months in new French oak and another six months in bottle.

I honestly haven’t had many Douro whites, making it a fun experiment to taste a five year old white wine blended with grapes that are honestly, a little foreign to me. A dark golden color that almost reminded me of the flesh of a ripe white peach with slightly restrained aromas of honey, pear and minerals. Although fun on the nose, reminding me of Monastrell, I found the palate lacking in both acidity and flavor. It was honestly quite difficult for me to pick up anything other than a hint of nuttiness right at the end of the finish.

Muros de Melgaco 2006
White wine produced by Manuel Anselmo Afonso Mendes in Vinho Verde, Portugal
Note: Although this 100% Alvarino from the Vinho Verde region in the north of Portugal does not qualify as an aged wine, it should be noted as a fantastic wine in a stylish long triangle shaped bottle. One word: Perfume. White and yellow flowers drift out of your glass followed by a touch of citrus. Bright acidity with a long silky finish, allowing additional floral flavors to come forth.

So as you can see from my tasting notes, Ryan’s are located below, although I wasn’t a huge fan of the Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco, I found the 2000 Quinta da Cabriz to show incredible depth and complexity after 7 years. Interestingly, although the Alvarinho we tried was only a 2006, Ryan did learn from two prominent Rias Biaxes winemakers that Alvarinho, or Alvarino in Spanish, is considered in its prime after 2 to 3 years of aging.

Therefore, we encourage you to get out there and destroy a few generalizations your holding near and dear to your heart. Maybe buy a few bottles of one your favorite white wines to see how it handles a few years on its side, or take a risk and go for a bottle you’ve tasted before. Whatever you choose, we’d love to hear about it!


Gabriella Opaz

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