To drink or not to drink, that is the question

Someone gives you a lovely bottle of wine for a special gift. So thoughtful, so appreciated…

Wow, you think, I’m going to save this for a special occasion. I better put this into storage. It’s too expensive/fancy/unusual to drink right now. All wines get better with age, right?

Not true!

Most wines made in the world today (around 90%) are meant to be consumed within a year or two of the vintage (year) on the bottle. All wines change with age, but not all wines change for the better. But wait you say, this is a really nice bottle. What should I do?

What are some of the signs that a wine can or should be aged?

As a general, but not absolute rule, price can give you some indication. If your bottles retails for under $25, drink up!

More expensive bottles are usually meant to age. These bottles typically come from good years where the weather conditions were just right, or from vineyards who have conditions that are optimum for growing the type of grape in the wine.

You can check Wine Spectator for their opinion on which years are the best.

Reds age better because of their higher tannin levels. A Cabernet has a higher tannin level than a Pinot Noir, therefore would be expected to age better.

Also take a look where your wine is from. A Pinot from California is more likely to be meant to be consumed right away than one from Burgundy. Of course, this is a generality and you must know what was intended when the wine was produced.

An expensive Bordeaux may be practically undrinkable for many years due to the high tannins.

Some Chardonnays can be aged, again, depending on the producer’s intention and also how you like yours to taste. Chardonnays will taste more buttery in the short term and more Burgundian in the longer term.

What about Champagnes? Most will do okay for 3 to 4 years and the vintage ones may keep for 10 years. Storage conditions matter. Don’t store the bottle upright in your refrigerator waiting for that special occasion!

Wines with high alcohol and high sugar contents will age well, such as Port or Madeira. The alcohol and sugar will protect the wine. Late picked wines with high sugar and acidity such as Riesling or Sauternes can be aged. In fact, Sauternes get better with age.

Since the factors can vary tremendously, this is a great time to ask your neighborhood retailer or local wine educator for their advice.

They are likely to know the producer of the wine, and whether or not that particular producer makes their wines to age or to drink immediately.

Wines that typically do not improve upon aging include Sauvignon Blancs, Beaujolais Nouveau, Rosés, and Zinfandels. Zinfandels can age but lose their spiciness and turn into something more like Cabernet over time.
And of course, make sure you have the right conditions for storage. There’s a reason that the great vineyards of the world have wine cellars that are nice and cool.

Constant cool temperatures are important. If you want to destroy your wine, expose it to sunlight, store it upright and at varying temperatures. Within 6 months, you’ll have done the job. If you don’t have a cellar, invest in a wine refrigerator.

A great way to see how wines age is to have a vertical tasting, where you try the same wine from different years. Read more about this approach here.  This will help educate you on how a particular wine may age over time and where your particular taste lies along the spectrum.

In summary, you should probably drink that bottle you’ve been saving before it completely deteriorates. There’s nothing worse than opening that bottle you’ve been looking forward to and having vinegar on your hands!

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