Tag Archives: aging wine

Most Wines Don’t Improve with Age

One of the greatest wine myths of all is that “older is better.” Here’s a brief explanation:

Do you like to bottle age your wine or is it “Down the hatch!” for you?

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Whites Get Deeper, Reds Lighten Up

It’s a wine oddity. As white wine ages it deepens in color, while reds actually lighten up. Here’s a brief explanation:

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Storing wine on the Top of the Fridge


Question from Denis: I have had a bottle of Dom Perignon [Champagne] for almost 7 years. It has been stored over the refrigerator in a wine rack slightly tilted for the greatest part of that time.  Is it still good?  Should I continue to save for a special event( it was given to us by our daughter and son in law when our first grandson was born) ( we should have drunk it right away , it was a great day).  Or should we chill and drink soon because it will or is bad and there is no better way to find out?

Reply: Hi, Denis. Thanks for writing!

The good news is that top of the line bubblies like DP can age quite well, 20 to 30 years total, counting from the vintage.The bad news is that the top of the fridge is about the worst place to store wine because the temperature in the kitchen fluctuates a great deal and, of course, heat rises. The fluctuation is the hardest thing for wine to tolerate but heat, alone, can be damaging. There’s only one way to find out if it’s spoiled and that’s to open it.

There’s so much sentiment wrapped up in that special bottle – which is far more important than the actual wine – that I’d be inclined to open it with your daughter and son on a special occasion. But, have a back-up bottle chilled, too, in case the wine looks brown and smells funky.

FYI, spoiled wine can’t hurt you – unless you drink too much, of course 😉 So, there’s no risk in trying it. The worst that can happen is that you wrinkle your nose and are disappointed.

For me, even if the wine isn’t good anymore, I enjoy the experience of opening an older bottle that might be over the hill – the anticipation and even the wine, itself. It’s interesting if nothing else. But, I always have a back-up bottle.

Seven years is a long time when the wine isn’t stored properly, but I hope that you’re pleasantly surprised. Older bubblies that have aged well aren’t quite as fizzy as they were when they were young, but the complexity that comes with age is the trade off. I remember talking to Hugh Davies, the head of Schramsberg here in the Napa Valley, and he told me that his mom used to like to drink their older vintages out of a regular wine glass, just to enjoy the aroma and aged characteristics. Incidentally, if you want a special domestic bubbly as your back up, I’d highly recommend Schramsberg. I also love Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley, CA.

Proper storage conditions
If you have any other bottles that you’d like to age, try to find a cool, dark place in your home that doesn’t fluctuate too much. A basement is terrific. You could insulate a closet. Or under the stairs or the house. Or just on the floor in a closet and hope for the best. Ideal storage is 55 F degrees and slightly humid but for practical purposes between 45 and 65 should be fine. The less ideal the conditions, the less you should push the wine to its limit. Cork finished bottles kept should be kept sideways in a dark place. 

I hope it turns out to be wonderful! Let me know! Cheers!

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Busting the Biggest Wine Myth of All


And, the winner is… “The older the better.” This myth crops up over and over, all the time, and it’s not a good thing because for the vast majority of wines made, world wide, the opposite is true.

When in doubt, down the hatch!

Forget about aging value wines. I know someone is going to write me back citing their favorite value red that’s always nicer with age, but let’s go with the big picture here. Generally speaking, these wines are made for immediate consumption and won’t hold up for more that two to four years. Especially whites and rosé wines. In most cases, the younger the better. 

This means, when you see white wine in the sale bin, it may not be such a bargain. Not if you end up dumping it down the drain instead of drinking it. 

And, in the world of fine wine, there are still more wines that don’t improve with age than those that do.

So, which wines to age? Continue reading


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When Will the 2012 Vintage be For Sale?



Question from Maureen: If it’s harvest time now, when will the wine be for sale? 

Reply: Hi, Maureen. Thanks for writing! The short answer is anywhere from this November through up to as many as five years from now, depending upon the style.

The thing is that making wine doesn’t take much time at all. Excluding some very small categories of wine, reds usually ferment dry within a week, or so, and whites may take up to a month.

So, it’s a matter of whether or not the wine needs to age. 

The fastest wine to hit the market is Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a light red wine that’s made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, in the southern part of Burgundy. They harvest the grapes in September and go into high gear getting it fermented, cleaned up and ready for bottling before the traditional release date of the third Thursday in November. That takes an incredible amount of organization, getting it out the door that fast.

Incidentally, the release date dovetails nicely with Thanksgiving. Because the wine isn’t heavy or tannic it’s quite versatile at the table. Plus, it’s fun to drink something that was fruit on the vine just weeks ago. Beaujolais Nouveau is also one of the few reds that tastes good chilled, so it’s great with summertime barbecue – if you can find it by then – they usually make just enough to sell out within a few months of release. 

Wineries that produce wine that doesn’t need to be aged (whites, rosés, popular price reds – most of the world’s wine, really) but aren’t under such pressure to get the wine to market will release their wine the following winter or spring, most likely, unless they have a warehouse full of the previous vintage.  

Fine reds, some high-end whites and dessert wines are the ones that usually need the most age. They spend months or even years in the barrel or cask, followed by some bottle age. Recently, I interviewed Maria Helm Sinskey and the current vintage of their Meritage-style blend was 2006. They hold it until they decide it’s ready for you. 

Leave it to the Europeans to have regulations on how long to age the wine. Chianti wine may be released on March 1st of the year following harvest. Chianti Classico (the heart of Chianti) must be aged at least seven months and Chianti Classico Riserva requires   minimum of 27 months. 

So, it seems that even the simplest question isn’t simple. But, I hope that helps! Cheers! 

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The Barrels are Coming! The Barrels are Coming!


When I went to do a tasting with a client the other day, I noticed that the barrel cellar was about half empty. I jokingly asked the winemaker if they’d decided to go with oak chips – wink, wink. “Well, no – it’s July.” Yup – July. Out with the old and in with the new. Got to get the new barrels unwrapped, inspected and in place before harvest starts, probably late August this year. 

That is, for those wineries who can afford new barrels and are looking for oak flavor in the wine. New French oak barrels are about $1,000.00 a pop; it’s less than half that for new American barrels. 

When it comes to flavor extraction you can think of barrels as being like tea bags. They give up their flavor with use. Which can actually be a good thing! There are only a few styes of wine that won’t be completely overwhelmed by the powerful flavor imparted by all new barrels. Think big (and expensive) reds. Continue reading

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What’s This Gunk in my Wine?


Question from Shelly: I have a bottle of port that someone gave me. It’s got gunky stuff just below the bottle neck. Is it okay to drink? 

Reply: Hi, Shelly. Thanks for writing! There’s nothing to worry about when you see that “crust” on the shoulder. It’s quite natural for full-bodied, intense Port wines to throw a significant amount of sediment as they age, particularly when they’re not filtered. In fact, sediment is so much expected and accepted that there’s actually a small category of Port wine called Crusted Port

What it tells me, is that the person who gave you the Port picked out a good one. 

Vintage Port is the top of the line and a tiny part of  the total production of Port. It’s released, unfiltered, after two or three years of barrel age and those lucky enough to own one should plan on aging it at home for at least a few more years before drinking it. There are many of the opinion that you shouldn’t even think of opening Vintage Port until it’s at least ten years old. During those years of bottle age, sediment forms and, assuming you’re storing the wine sideways, it settles there in the shoulder. 

It could also be a LBV (late-bottled vintage) that wasn’t filtered or a Single Quinta (a vintage-dated, single-estate Port but from a lesser year than normal Vintage Port). And, of course, it could be a Crusted Port. Continue reading

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How To Store Your Wine


We talked about aging Champagne and I realized it might be good to talk about how to store your wine.

The first thing to recognize is that wine isn’t like a bottle of scotch – it continues to change in the bottle.

The aging at the winery is relatively brief. The wine changes so rapidly in the small barrel that it would be worn out by more than months in the barrel for whites or a year or two for reds. So, bottle aging takes over from there.

A few months back we talked about which wines to age so I’ll just recap that most wines don’t improve with age and the best candidates are high-quality red wines and dessert wines. But the quality of the storage conditions has everything to do with how well the wine ages. 

Fortunately, the conditions are the same for all wines: reds, whites, bubblies and dessert wines. You see photos of dusty bottles aging away in musty old cellars because it works. The wine wants to be kept in a cool, dark place.

What does that mean? The temperature should be between 45 and 65 F with minimal fluctuation. Slight, slow changes from season to season won’t matter much, but big temperature swings can be very damaging. So, don’t keep your wine in the kitchen unless it’s for the short term! I can’t tell you how many wine racks I’ve seen sitting on top of the fridge where, of course, the heat rises. 

If you have a basement, that’s terrific. Or, maybe you can insulate a closet or the area under the stairs. Wine fridges are great if you can swing it. 

Cork-finished bottles need to be stored sideways so that the cork is swollen with wine and provides a tight seal. For plastic corks and other alternatives it doesn’t matter.

So, storage isn’t too complicated at all. Just keep in mind that the wine can get too old! Don’t put a special bottle on such a high pedestal that there’s no occasion good enough for it. I’m a huge fan of the great concept started by the terrific wine writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher – it’s called Open That Bottle Night and the point is to have a fabulous meal and open special bottles you’ve been saving for a real occasion with your friends. Traditionally, it’s in February, but no need to wait until then 🙂 Cheers!

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How to Taste: Color and Clarity

I always place aroma and flavor waaay ahead of appearance as a priority, but the color can communicate quite a lot to you the second the wine goes into the glass.

The first thing to know is that wine isn’t like a bottle of Scotch. It continues to change in the bottle and the color is a good indicator of where it is in its evolution. Some wines improve with bottle age, but most don’t. It’s always smart to ask questions when you buy wine because each wine ages at its own rate.

To get a good look at what’s going on it helps to have a white background like a white tablecloth or a white piece of paper (I use legal-sized copy paper for place mats when I host a tasting at home).

Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle against the white background and take a look. The wine should be brilliantly clear, and free of UFOs (unidentified floating objects – a little cork won’t hurt you!). Ideally, the wine should be physically beautiful! If it’s cloudy, it’s possible that the wine is past its prime or spoiled, but never let this put you off of tasting it to make sure. If it’s spoiled it can’t hurt you – just offend you! So, if it tastes okay, it is okay, and down the hatch! But, clarity is the ideal. Continue reading

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