Age and wine…it is a big issue, both for wine dweebs like me and even the average wine drinker. For the former, it is all about trying to find the optimum time to drink a wine – not too young and tannic, not old and dried out, but just right! And for the latter – I want to drink it right away, is that okay?
I am generalizing, of course, and apologies to all – in both camps – who are offended! But the basic question is the same – how old should a wine be before I can enjoy it at its best?
I decided to write about this topic after my buddy Jim texted me to come over and taste a 2004 La Frenz Merlot the other day. At almost 13 years old, any Merlot from BC (and most from anywhere) should be dead…dried out, no fruit. But this one (I of course raced right over!) was stunning – still lots of fruit, interesting touch of vanilla and licorice and mint…simply stunning!
Back to the questions, then…but before I answer (and add some additional considerations), a few qualifications.
First, we are talking about red wines here, not whites. While a few white wines can age (sweet, Rieslings, some Burgundies), the vast majority don’t age well and should be consumed within a year or so of purchase.
Second, even with reds, over 90% are good to go on release. That way you get the freshness of the fruit, which is what wine is (or should be) all about.
So what about it, then? How old should it be…and what is too old?
The first question? That is a matter of taste, for the most part.
Young red wines have more fruit to them – some would say “obvious” fruit, but there is nothing the matter with that. They also can have a lot of tannin, which makes them mouth puckering and difficult to unpleasant to drink. So it depends on what style you like the best.
Interestingly, because more and more wine drinkers won’t wait to age a wine these days, even the most expensive wines can drink very well upon release.
But what about the other question – how do you know if it is too old?
This, of course, excludes wines that are oxidized and/or spoiled. Aromas and flavours of vinegar, tea, etc. mean the wine is bad, and should be avoided.
But aside from that, it turns out the answer to the question is almost the same as the first time – it depends on the style you like the best!
Most people like their older wines to still have some fruit in them. It may be more dried fruit – dried cherries, cassis, and plums in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone wines, Barolo, Barbaresco, etc – but still recognizable as fruit, none-the-less.
However, there are folks that actually like their wine almost completely dried out – oak, cedar, other kinds of wood! The stereotype is “the English”, who apparently had a tradition of aging their Bordeaux and Burgundy so long that it literally had no fruit left in it. Not my style, but if that’s what you like…
So, as usual, it all depends on your taste.
But make sure you know what you like in advance! The last thing you want to do is wait for a wine to age…and find out that you don’t like that style.