I tend to keep wines far too long. I buy an interesting bottle, and then I save it for when I’m serving just the right meal, for when I get around to hosting that one tasting I had in mind, for when that one person I know who would love it comes over, or for that occasion that’s special enough to justify the cost of the bottle. In most cases, I’m doing myself (and whomever drinks it with me) a disservice because many times these wines are aging past their prime while I’m waiting for the perfect moment to drink them. In an effort to inspire myself and others to stop hoarding wine, I’ve come up with a brief guide for “when to drink.”
Rule #1: 90% of the time, DRINK IT NOW!
Many people believe that older wine = better wine, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The vast majority of wines on store shelves today is meant to be drunk within a year or two of bottling. Here are some details:
- Only 10% of red wines will taste better when they are 5 years old than they did at release
- Only 5% of white wines will taste better when they are 5 years old than they did at release
- Most wine loses fruitiness within 6 months of bottling
- Anything with a screw cap (or in a box) is not meant to be aged
Rule #2: If you want to drink older wines, know what to look for.
You may want to seek out that 10% (or less) of wines that will improve with age, because you appreciate the complex flavors, earthiness, or mellow tannins that develop over time. Keep in mind that less than 10% of wines will be better after 5 years, and only about 1% of wines will be better after 10 years! And you will need to store it properly as it ages. (Hints on that here.) To find a wine capable of aging, look for one that meets these qualifications:
- Top quality
- Strong levels of acid and/or tannin
- Costs more than $25 (and sometimes quite a bit more)
Here are some specific suggestions:
- High quality red Bordeaux (like St. Estephe, St. Julien, Pauillac, Margaux, St. Emilion, Pomerol)
- High quality dessert wines of Bordeaux (like Sauternes)
- High quality red or white Burgundy
- Barolo from Italy
- Top quality Napa Cabernet
So to recap, and because any subject involving time and numbers needs a chart…
Wines have a lifecycle. A few improve before they start to decline, but most start declining right away. Here’s a simplified chart that illustrates this:
Now I have to go open a bottle of wine I’ve been pointlessly saving!