How old is too old?

When I sit down to write the article, the final piece of the jigsaw is usually the title. I reread the article and try to pick a title that reflects the content but might get people intrigued enough to stop them going straight to Pat's Food column. This week, the title came first and stems from an incident in Dublin last weekend.

When I sit down to write the article, the final piece of the jigsaw is usually the title. I reread the article and try to pick a title that reflects the content but might get people intrigued enough to stop them going straight to Pat's Food column. This week, the title came first and stems from an incident in Dublin last weekend.

I was doubling up business and pleasure last weekend in our nation's capital and Sunday and Monday were about meetings and a New Zealand wine tasting event. Saturday was about my birthday and a good meal and a sublime bottle of wine. I spent a great evening in Ely Bar who have 550 bottles of wine on their list. I was on a wine trip with Anthony, the manager, last September and had promised to drop in. If you are looking for a great night out in Dublin with great food and wine, I can highly recommend Ely.

Recommendations aside, after a long night, myself and my wife were walking down a wet and windy Grafton Street at about 1.30 in the morning. I was wearing a coat I get frequent abuse over. It is a long raincoat that apparently makes me look much older than I am. All I know is that it keeps me dry.

As we walked down the cobbles, I heard two homeless men shout from behind me. "Look at yer wan with the auld fella. He's old enough to be her Da". While I realise the grey hair, need of a haircut and the overindulgence that night did not help my appearance, I took immediate offence. My wife on the other hand started to laugh and was reflecting in the glow of their compliment on how well she looked.

The correct thing to do would be to walk on, but I found myself stopping, turning and shouting back to the gentlemen of leisure, "Are you familiar with the Horse Outside video?". They responded that they were, so in the spirit on that video, "I gave them one of 'these'". You'll have to watch the video (over 18s only) to see what 'These' are. In fact, I gave them numerous ones and did a little jig as I delivered 'them'. As I was in mid jig with fingers flying, it suddenly dawned on me that they could react.

They stared back in shock and I turned and did that walk that is nearly a run and got out of there very quickly. I am not condoning my reaction but you must understand the embarrassment after they questioned my age. It was my birthday after all. As I reflected on it the following morning, I thought up the title for this article. How old is too old?

Of course I am talking about wine, and it is a question I get asked a lot. How long will a bottle of wine last? I remember finding a bottle of Spanish Table Wine in my parents' house that was dated 1985 and they were 'saving' it. I can very safely predict that the bottle was undrinkable before the end of the eighties. I am sure that many a holidaymaker is harbouring similar treasures across the utility rooms of Ireland.

Like many of the truths in wine, it very often (but not always) comes down to money. If the wine is purchased for under 10 Euros, then you are looking at anything between 2 and 5 years maximum, but in many cases, the wine will be made for early drinking so try to enjoy it in that first 2 years if you can. The fruit will be to the front and will very often be the point of the wine. There may be nothing to wait for.

Reds last longer than white. Is this fact or fiction? It is in fact fiction, and some of the great aging wines of the world are white (think German Riesling, Rhone Valley Condrieu). However, these wines are very expensive and the wines that most of us buy are meant to be consumed early. There is a startling statistic that the average time between wines being purchased in Ireland and opened is measured in hours, not days.

The things that will keep a wine alive are the quality of the fruit, the level of acidity and the balance in the wine. There is also the grape variety as some grapes are made to be aged and some are made to be drunk early. Cabernet Sauvignon from France can be quite tannic in its youth and will benefit from age, but Chilean Cabernet is much softer and often a little sweeter. This should be drunk young.

If you ever taste good Nebbiolo it will be terribly difficult in the first few years but with age it can become spectacular. However, I can remember nearly ever bottle of Barolo and Barbaresco that I sell so for the purpose of a wider audience, we will assume the wines we are talking about fit into the sub 12 Euros bracket.

There are still a lot of 2008 Whites drinking very well and some 2007 wines are holding their own. Anything older and you may really need to look at the country, the winemaker and more importantly the wine merchant. There are good bargains to be had sub 12 Euros from merchants making room and clearing 20 Euro bottles of 2005 and 2006 whites that are still drinking very well.

Beware wines of an older vintage that are not discounted because they may well have been meant to be drunk already. The southern hemisphere has its harvest early in the year, so a 2010 Australian wine is older than a 2010 Italian wine.

Wines that are past their best are not bad for you, but they don't taste great. Wine has one ultimate destiny if it is not consumed and that is to become vinegar. That is a reality and I know many a person who got caught at the ferry ports of northern France with 'bargain' wines. If you pour it down the sink the price is irrelevant.

The Reds will hold a bit longer but unless it is at the higher end, I would start to ask questions on anything pre 2005, unless of course it has been discounted back in good faith. I was at a party a few weeks ago and the host had a bottle of 1962 Pomerol open. I can't tell you I tasted it as I did not, but it smelt great. I have tasted 50 year old wines and another importer I do a bit of work with got a present of a wine from the 1920s which he opened on Christmas Day and by all accounts it was as fresh as a daisy.

I hope the homeless men of Grafton Street are warm and safe and keeping their comments to themselves. While my hair is greying slightly, it is still very much intact and I'll suffer a few grey hairs above losing them. I should really take their comment as a compliment for how young my wife looks. As Groucho Marx once said, "you are only as old as the woman you are feeling". Of course she may not be talking to me after this article.