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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Aging wine

Q: What about aging this expensive bottle of wine to make it taste better?

A: How do you know it'll be better after sitting around gathering dust for a few years?

That's a real predicament.
Is this stuff still any good?

Some wines will age nicely, but the vast majority will not.   So how do you know?   The best answer is based on the track record of a particular wine.   Wines like high-end French Burgundies and Bordeaux's from the best years will age decades, but we're probably talking less that one-tenth of one percent of the wines out there.

Most wines are made to drink young, say within a couple years.   Other wines that may have been made to age don't really last.   Some because they are so tannic that the fruit goes away before the tannins die down and you have a mouthful of dryness.  Others, especially many New World wines, don't have the acids (the proper pH) to age.  They just get dull and uninteresting.

As far as aging white wines or rosés I would say don't.   It's highly unlikely one would improve.   With California reds it's a real crap shoot going more than five years past the vintage date as most CA wines tend to be high alcohol and lower acid and don't age well.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  It's generally considered that the only California wine that has a chance to improve with age is Cabernet, but I've had ten year old Cabs that are over-the-hill and I've had some wonderful 15 year old Merlot and Zinfandel.

Besides the wine, storage is key to aging wine and very few of us have the facility to do it properly.   You need a constant cool temperature with no light and relatively high humidity.   Many people say 55 degrees, but there's absolutely nothing magical about that temperature.   Before refrigeration wine was stored underground where the temp. is usually about 55.   If you store it at a colder temperature the wine will age slower, at a warmer temp. it'll age faster.  Light damages wine.   Humidity is needed to keep the corks from drying out.

Aged wines are different.  You may find you just don't like them regardless of how well a particular wine may age.

How can you tell a young wine is going to age well?   I call it "structure" which has to do with tannins, acids, concentration and complexity.   Sometimes I can taste a young red wine and say, "Wow, this is going to be really good in about ten years."   Of course, I could be totally wrong.

So, how about buying an already aged bottle of wine? Folks occasionally look for a wine from their birth year or their child's. The person trying to sell you the wine is, of course, going to tell you it was aged perfectly. Are you going to trust your money on that? Maybe ask them to show you a photo of the wine in its storage location.

I find having most reds sit in storage for a few months or a year will probably help the wine if you have a decent place to store it.    I drink aged wine often and, in general, whites are best within a few months of purchase, Pinot, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel within five years of the vintage date, and Cabernet within five or ten years.