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Predicting Wine Aging is Tricky

One of my friends is prone to say, “It’s not ready to drink. It’s a baby, a Lolita.” Sometimes I wonder if he ever enjoys a bottle of wine, since he is always thinking it might be better with more age. Judgments about when wine will reach a peak are very subjective. You need to own six to twelve bottles of every wine to follow it’s development and know when the wine has reached its “peak.” For me, I don’t like to be encumbered by worrying about how long to cellar a wine - I just pop the cork when I feel like it. I actually prefer younger wines that still have lively fruit and are fresh.

Most American Pinot Noirs are not made with aging in mind and do not improve noticeably in the bottle. It has been quoted by Sommelier Lauriann Greene-Solin (see French Wine Explorers) that only 20% of wines will improve with aging beyond one or two years. This is because current winemaking favors fruitiness and freshness, not extraction of tannins needed for a wine to age well.

Only quality wines become more interesting with cellaring. Cellaring a bad bottle of wine for ten years will not turn it into a better wine. Since only about 30% of wines are “quality,” and since some of these quality wines are not meant for aging, it can be estimated that 20% of wines can be aged successfully.

Good balance is an absolute requirement for aging. Balance must be present from the beginning, because wines do not become more balanced with time in the cellar. Sommeliers like Lauriann also talk about persistence. Count the number of seconds a wine’s aroma lasts on your palate once you spit or swallow the wine. If it lasts longer than six seconds, the aging potential is good. More than eight seconds, and the wine will likely last a number of years in the cellar.

The golden rule of cellaring wine is not let it slip past its prime. When a wine is dead, it will never come back to life. When you discover a wine that is at its peak, pull the cork on every bottle you own, invite me over, and let’s party. Don’t be disappointed, however, if I still prefer a Lolita to a decrepit Grandma Moses.

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