The Age-Old Question: To Age or Not to Age?

There are no hard and fast figures on this, but experience tells us that at least 90% of all wines are made to be consumed within a year or two of their release.

The percentage probably is higher. But for the purpose of this discussion, let’s say 90% is accurate. That means only 10% of wine should even be considered for additional aging, referred to as “cellaring”—or, as the case may be, “closeting” or “shelving.”

Which brings up the question: How can we tell which wines should be opened soon, and which should be set aside for a while?

Perhaps the leading “indicator” is whether the wine spent significant time in oak barrels—and not just any oak barrels, but ones that were being used for the first or second time, and thus imparted significant flavor to the wine. If it did, then aging can provide time for the oak and fruit flavors to fully “integrate.” Drink such a wine too soon, and the oak flavors are likely to dominate the fruit flavors.

Wines that are not aged in oak seem “fresher” on the palate, and thus should be consumed sooner rather than later. The longer such a wine remains in the bottle, the greater the risk of losing some of that characteristic.

Another fairly reliable indicator is the price of the wine. Bottles that cost $25 or more are better candidates for aging than those costing less. Often, this ties in with the aging process at the winery, which takes us right back to those oak barrels; it costs more to age wines in oak than in stainless steel tanks, because barrels must be replaced after a few years. It’s a cost of doing business that is passed on to the consumer.

Finally, it’s almost always better to err on the side of drinking a wine in its relative youth. Once a wine is “over the hill,” it’s on that side of the hill forever. A young wine, even though it may be “developing,” can still offer plenty of drinking pleasure.

Posted in In the Cellar
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