Wine and Aging Demystified

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Often I’m asked, “How long should I age this wine?” And the answer is usually, “Drink it now.” For the truth of the matter is a very small percentage of wine should be cellared. Yet it is the mystique of aging—that wine is a living organism and will improve with age—that intrigues us. This and the fact that those wines which do improve with significant aging, only one percent of all wine produced, are the great wines we tend to hear most about or at least to talk about the most.

Wine aging in the cellars of Châteauneauf du Pape

Wine aging in the cellars of Châteauneauf du Pape

Know then, when you are buying wine, that generally the wine producer has done the aging for you, or more generally that the wine is ready to drink with no aging. Most wine made today should be drunk as soon as you buy it while its fruit is still young and enjoyable. Because of the myth that all wine improves with aging, far too much wine is drunk too late than too early. The great majority of wine will actually start to lose the fruitiness that gives it appeal within six months of being bottled. Therefore, if you have that 1961 bottle of sparkling wine, get out the olive oil and toss the salad greens.

Wine is mysterious and wonderful because, unlike most consumables which deteriorate from the moment we buy them, wine is one of the few things that has the capacity to change for the better. Perhaps the top ten percent of reds and the top four or five percent of whites will improve from aging five years or so. But only the top one percent will improve for two to three decades in the cellar.

So which wines are those that will be more pleasurable after years in the cellar? The red wines with heavy tannins like Bordeaux (preferably a classified wine from the Médoc where the blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, not Merlot or Cabernet Franc)and California Cabernets. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are small and thick skinned allowing for more tannins, which are found in the skins and pips. Thus, paradoxically or perhaps unfortunately, an uneducated wine shopper might grab an expensive bottle of wine off the shelf when in doubt what to get for a fancy meal, only to find that its taste does not match its price. This is precisely because the most expensive bottles are often the ones with the long life expectancy, full of mouth-puckering, inky tannins and generally only commercially available (and affordable) in their youth. These are the wines to age.

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Château Gruaud-Larose, Bordeaux

And if you want a truly fantastic wine, do the aging yourself. Buy a good Bordeaux from a good vintage (2000 and 2005 were outstanding vintages) and put it away for ten to twenty years. The result will be mellowed tannins and an amazing wine. If you drink a 2000 or 2005 Château Gruaud-Larose or a Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, for example, in fifteen years, you’ll have not only a stunning and sumptuous wine and wine experience, but you’ll have something you probably wouldn’t be able to find anywhere (that is a well-kept vintage Bordeaux) and if you could, the cost would be outrageous.

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Great wines to age

Wines to age other than tannin-rich Cabernets include Madiran, Hermitage, Nebbiolo, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Amarone, Ribera del Duero from Spain, botrytized sweet wines, Loire wines made from Chenin Blanc, many Rieslings (probably not most Virginian Rieslings) and grand cru white Burgundy.

vines of Burgundy

vines of Burgundy

The preceding article originally appeared in Nelson County Life Magazine, now Blue Ridge Life.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

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