One of the great concerns among wine enthusiasts is trying to find out when to open that great bottle of wine that has been carefully put away for a special occasion.
It’s a problem because not all wines age at the same rate. Wine snobs might have you believe that the older the wine the better. That is one of the oldest myths around and one that needs to be put to rest.
All wine has a life cycle. It is true that most wine in the marketplace is meant to be consumed immediately or within a brief period of time — perhaps one to two years. White wines typically have a shorter lifespan than reds. But all wines, including reds, gradually will peak over time and then start to fade.
As wine ages, the exuberant fruit and acids of youth give way to more subtle aldehydes and softer tannins. However, with continued maturity, the fruit starts to disappear, the body thins out and oxidation contributes to gradual erosion of taste over time.
I often am amused when I hear reports from wine collectors who wax eloquently about a wine that is 40 to 60 years old, when I know the wine is truly ancient and over the hill. The fruit is long gone, and while there may be some nuance left, the overall enjoyment just isn’t there. The only real issue is whether it is still sound. I feel like the person who said the emperor has no clothes.
Don’t get me wrong. Some wines do get better with time, particularly red wines. The optimal window for vintage Port is probably between 20 and 40 years. However, remember that winemakers have recognized that most folks don’t want to wait for wines to come around over 10 to 20 years.
Winemakers all over the world are making wine that is more accessible at an early age. Some wines, such as Viognier, are meant to be consumed over the first two years of life.
California Chardonnays are best enjoyed within five to six years of bottling, before the ravages of oxidation become more likely.
The decision on when to enjoy a bottle of wine is greatly determined by how much your palate values fruit vs. nuance. If wine is meant for everyday drinking, then why bother putting it away in the closet?
If you have a special bottle, recognize that it has a lifespan. Get some advice from your wine merchant about longevity. The best advice is, when in doubt, take it out … and enjoy!