I saw a column on aging wine this past weekend and, frankly, couldn’t believe the advice that was given. Statements like “virtually all wines benefit from a few years aging”, “3 – 5 years is optimum for most red wines”, and “pay the extra money for a more expensive wine as it will pay off when it is ready”.
In my 30+ experience tasting, drinking and cellaring wine, the response to these statements is – BALDERDASH! And I will take on the fallacies one by one.
First, let’s be clear – over 90 per cent of red wines will not benefit from any aging at all. They may not deteriorate after a year or so, but they won’t get any better either. The vast majority of red wines – including a lot of frighteningly expensive ones – are best drunk right after you buy them. Stand them up for a few hours, then open and consume.
And white wines? Well make that number 99%! Except for sweet white wines, some German and Alsatian wines, and a smattering of white Rhones and Bordeaux, virtually all white wines need to be drunk within six months or a year of purchase. This is particularly the case if they are “oaked”, as the wood can rapidly take over and completely overwhelm the fruit.
Next question, then; for those red wines that can age, how long is best?
Well, for your Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cotes du Rhones (from France), big Piedmont and Tuscany reds from Italy (like Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, and Chianti Classico Riserva), Spanish Rioja, California Cabernet Sauvignon and Australian Old Vine Shiraz, the answer is…it depends!
How much tannin a wine has – that mouth-puckering experience you get when you drink some of the big reds when they are young – is one determinant. The more tannin, the longer it will take to soften, the longer it can age.
But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily taste better five, ten or even twenty years later. Because – as I blogged a few weeks ago – as the tannin goes, so does the fruit. You could be left with a mouthful of wood and herbs; at best, it will be a very different tasting beverage. So if you like your wine to be fruity, don’t age it that long.
The final statement, though, is the one that gets me the most – “buy the most expensive one, as it benefit from aging the most”.
As someone who does PR as a business, I can tell you that is just marketing. Yes, there can be a correlation between price, quality and ageability. But not always. And very few people I know can tell the difference (in a positive way) between a $50 bottle, a $75 bottle and a $100+ bottle (not that I have tried many of the latter). Let alone ones that go way beyond those prices.
Instead, I would recommend a couple of things. First, know the style of wine you like best, including whether you like “old” wine at all. For me, I like – or love, actually – old Chateauneuf du Pape and Barolo. So I will buy those wines to age in my cellar.
But how much I will pay is always a question. Frankly, I can’t find any reason to spend more than $75 a bottle (and rarely go above $50). Maybe if I was rich that would change, although I can’t believe I would ever buy $100 bottles of wine.
To sum it up, buy what you like – and what you think is good value – and drink most of it up young, saving special bottles to age (if you like that style).
I’ll conclude with a story to illustrate all these points. I have a friend who is (or was) a wine dweeb like me. Years ago, the got some new neighbours and the man said he was into wine. They got to chatting and my friend soon got invited over (with his wife) for dinner.
Once there, it didn’t take long to get down to the wine cellar – a converted room, with temperature control, wooden shelves, locked door, etc. Apparently it was very impressive. But then my friend looked at the wines.
All red, but all from Chile…and in the $12 – $15 range! Many of them were also 5+ years old!
I can’t remember if they drank any that night (or what they tasted like if they did). And it may well be that the guy just liked old, inexpensive Chilean wines.
But it might also be he believed in some of the marketing about aging red wines. If so, that was a very unsatisfying – and expensive – mistake.