Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


All about ageing - new ten year old wines show rewards of cellaring

PS: If ageing wine seems too tricky, the current releases of the two wines on this post are also stellar examples of the best of New Zealand wine and they put North Canterbury's finest vinous foot forward.

Apologies for the long headline. It is always with a sense of dread that cellaring wine enters the discussion because most wine drinkers prefer to purchase their wine now to drink it now rather than invest now and wait a decade in the hope of... not being quite sure what to expect. It was exactly this thought that motivated the Donaldson family, who own Pegasus Bay Winery, to intentionally age the cream of their crop each year and re-release a small portion of it in a decade's time. They are not the only winemaking family holding wines back for ageing but most people do not offer the wines to the public - and at such modest prices, given the investment in wines that sit ageing (rather than being sold and generating money) in storage facilities that could be put to other use and brought out a decade later with the main motivation to offer a glimpse of aged wine to the public. I love this concept. It takes the hard work of ageing wine out of the hands of wine drinkers, who can now enjoy the taste of great older wines, which have been impeccably aged. I can vouch for the taste of the wines, which I have followed for the nine years that this programme has been in place, and also the storage conditions. The cellars at Pegasus Bay are ideal for ageing wine in; cool, temperature stable, dark and out of the reach of most people.

It can be very tricky starting a wine cellar, if you don't have ideal conditions in which to store the wine and also a well stocked everyday drinking rack that is fairly full so that you don't plunder the fledgling collection as it grows. Add in the fact that the vast majority of wine is made with the intention that it will be consumed within an hour, if not a day or a year of purchase, and it all begs the question: Why does anyone age wine?

The answer is, basically, complexity and deliciousness. Most great wines do evolve positively over time, gaining depth, complex layers of flavour and far more interest than when they were young. Great wines take time to evolve and express themselves fully. A lot of New Zealand wines benefit strongly from age and most such wines are not found on supermarket shelves but rather in the cellars of wineries, winemakers, wine collecters and, in some cases, the shelves of specialist wine retailers. I have been working for just such a place - Regional Wines & Spirits - for the past seven years as a wine educator, advisor and wine buyer, but that's not how I came upon these two wines of the week.

These wines were sent to me directly in my role as independent wine writer and author. They come from Pegasus Bay winery in North Canterbury's Waipara Valley, a region that is highly under rated for high quality wine production. Nearly 20 years ago, the Donaldson family, who founded and own Pegasus Bay, took the brave step of starting an Aged Release Programme with their 2006 wines, which they released in 2016. They have since released two Aged Release wines every year and this week sees the launch of the 2014 Pegasus Bay Riesling and 2014 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir. These two wines are the flagship varietals from this producer. The winery is family owned also makes the evocatively named Main Divide wines, which are  accessibly priced for everyday pleasure. The Main Divide is the name of the majestic Southern Alps, which divide Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island's) east and west coasts.

By the way, when it comes to ageing wines, The Oxford Companion to Wine has an excellent section on the subject, acknowledging that a lot has yet to be learnt about exactly how and why ageing takes place in bottles of wine.

"If our understanding of red wine maturation is incomplete, even less is known about the ageing process of white wines. Nevertheless, research has shown the important of certain grape glycosides (and the hydrolysis of these constituents) during white wine aging to the development of varietal aroma in the wine," says the entry on White wine ageing. 

This entry also acknowledges that good Rieslings with relatively low levels of phenolics can generally age for far longer than comparable quality Chardonnays, which contain more phenolics. There are many other variables that come into play and it is worth diving into the Oxford Companion for more information.

Without further ado, here are my top two wines of the week... 

(A tricky choice since tonight I will be tasting and enjoying Barolo, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Brunello di Montalcino from 2016 and a couple of very interesting wines that go by the name of Pheasant's Tears. More on those in a blog to come. Watch this space.

Wines of the week

2014 Pegasus Bay Riesling Aged Release RRP $45

An outstanding example of what happens to very good quality Riesling when it has spent 10 years evolving in a cool dark cellar. Always succulent but now layered with flavours of fleshy ripe peach, candied mandarin and honey, all balanced by a lime zest aromas and fresh acidity. The once pale colour of this wine has now evolved to gold in what is thought to be the slow oxidation of the wine's phenolic content but technical info aside, this wine was delish when first release and is now outrageously complex, textural and offers great interest in the mouth. 

Available from the winery at

2014 Pegasus Bay Aged Release Pinot Noir RRP $70

Hand picked grapes, one third whole bunch fermentation, wild yeasts and gentle plunging all add up to a business as usual style of top quality Burgundian inspired Pinot Noir production, only the most important decision here (picking dates) accentuates the extraordinary depths of flavour and elegant balanced structure. 

I liked this wine eight years ago. I love it today. Buy it. Try it. See for yourself what well aged great wine is really all about. This is one of New Zealand's top Pinot Noirs. 

Available from the winery at