To Age or Not to Age?

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It is a widely held belief that the longer you keep a bottle of wine the better it will taste.  The first known wine review was of a 200 year old bottle and written by Roman Historian Pliny the Elder in 70 A.D.  He rated 121 B.C. as a vintage “of the highest excellence.”  Does that mean you should cellar your 2009 vintage until 2209?  Should you bequeath those special bottles to your grandchildren?

Nope.  Modern wines are different. Hooray! Of all the wines produced today, more than 90% are designed to be consumed within a couple of years after they are produced.

So what’s changed? Applying today’s modern technology to wine production and grapes cultivation produces wines that do not need decades of aging before maturation. Modern wines are aged in barrel to create an enjoyable tannin, fruit, acid balance prior to bottling and won’t necessarily improve with additional aging in bottle.  In the past, there was less control over wine production and often the seeds, stems, and skins of the grapes, as well as the flavor of the barrel, created a bitterly tannic product.  Aging was necessary because it took years for the tannins to precipitate, as sediment, and the complexity of the wine’s flavor from fruit, acid, and all the other elements that make a beautiful wine to come into greater balance.  Take as proof the many old wines sold today (above 50 years or so) which are completely drinkable. That wine likely started off too harsh for consumption, so harsh that it took some 20-50 years to become palatable. Some need 100 years to become good wines and you can imagine how much money you will need to keep wine for so long in storage.

While most modern wines can be drunk almost as soon as they are bottled, some of the wines do benefit from aging a few years There are some wines which will need some 2-3 years to reach their peak potential while some take about 5-7 years to reach that level but understand that it is just as possible to age a wine for too long a time as it is to age it for too little a time.  In general, more expensive red wines are usually designed to become better with age. Most inexpensive wines do not benefit from aging.  It’s also good to note, that whites have less tannin so are less apt to age well.  Getting more specific about some red grapes, rules of thumb might be for the very best wines: Cabernet, 10 to 15 years; Merlot, 4 to 7 years for many; Nebbiolo, 10 years or more; Pinot Noir, about 5 years to start.

If you are interested in aging some of your bottles take a look at this guide on cellarnotes.net. But in more cases than not, enjoy your wine as soon as you can!!

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