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Drink up: Wines really don’t need to be aged

Drink up: Wines really don’t need to be aged

Many years ago, I was given a bottle of wine that sparked my greatest wine dream: my own private wine cellar. A cellar designed with bottles lining a dark romantic room. Wines waiting among the spider webs while time works its magic. If you are fortunate enough to realize this idealistic cellar it is a significant achievement, but do we need a space in our homes to allow decades of wine aging?

One of the main reasons we buy wines to age is a simple case of supply and demand. If you let the producer, broker or wine shop store the aging wine, generally, it will cost more. Many wines in the past were produced with characteristics that needed time to mellow out and soften.

But the reality is most wines do not improve with age. Almost 98 percent of wine produced today is meant to be consumed fresh, with a shelf life of 3 to 5 years.

What makes today’s wines so different from those romantic stories of pulling out a 30-year-old Bordeaux or Burgundy that has finally reached its prime? A lot. One hundred years ago, grapes were hand harvested and put into baskets and thrown into open vats at the winery in hope Mother Nature would control the temperature and it would eventually become a fine wine.

Today, with dramatic changes in grape harvesting and winery technology, wines are crafted with more precision. Starting with the harvest of uniformly ripe grapes. Perhaps the largest impact is from “green harvesting.” A green harvest is when, a month or so before the actual harvest date, less ripe clusters of grapes are “dropped” or “eliminated.” These unwanted clusters are literally cut and dropped on the ground, allowing the vines to divert more energy on the riper grapes. Green harvesting has transformed the quality of modern fine red wines throughout the world offering the consumer a softer, finer tannin structure.

Advances in technology are allowing winemakers to pay meticulous attention to fermentation methods, timing of skin contact on the wine, temperature control, filtering and the use of small oak barrels. Each of these techniques makes red wines more approachable to drink with more integrated tannic structure.

I know some of you may be thinking, “but what about my classic Brunello or Barolos?” Those wines are the exception. But for the rest of us, those millions of other bottles lining retail shelves are ready to drink now and don’t require the coveted cellar space.

The conclusion: Unless you have strategically collected bottles intended for aging, it may be time to take stock of your collection and enjoy those bottles in the present.

Aged wine isn’t necessarily better

Old Wine BottlesA few weeks ago, my husband and I nervously pulled the cork of a bottle we had tended for almost 15 years. Many occasions came and went with the discussion of whether it was too early, late or the perfect time.

Only a small percentage of the world’s wines improve with age so it’s a wonderful moment when pure patience wins over anticipation in the battle of cellaring a bottle.

Wine does not have to be expensive to show the benefits of aging. Some Napa Valley Cabernets can gain spectacular benefits in 10 years while some Bordeaux transform after a hundred. Consider these tips on aging wines.


Champagne, second to Bordeaux, may have the most distorted view of being age worthy. Aged Champagne can be described as an acquired taste. It loses its zip and bubble, making it much like a yeasty still wine. Avid collectors savor the taste but if you were given a bottle as a wedding gift 20 years ago, most likely it will not be what you are expecting. Most sparkling wines and nonvintage Champagne are best when opened within two years of bottling.


Fortified wines like Port and Madeira are best bets for long-term cellaring. It’s the combination of high alcohol and sugar slowing down the natural deterioration over time.


Long-term cellaring of Burgundy is a lot like playing the stock market; unless you know the producer, it’s a gamble. The same can be said of California pinot noir.

When the age-worthy pinot noir offers its combination of acidity, tannin and concentration, it is a masterpiece. But unless the growing conditions and the winemaker’s technique were perfect, most pinot noir is best consumed within two to four years.


Wine storage is generally the most important factor in successful aging. The lower the temperature, the slower the maturation. In general the more slowly a wine intended for aging matures, the greater complexity of the flavors. Also, in general the smaller the bottle size the faster its contents mature.


A wine’s potential for aging depends on many factors including vintage, producer and storage conditions. The following is a general guideline for wines intended for cellaring: Cabernet sauvignon: four to 20 years Merlot: two to 12 years Nebbiolo: four to 20 years Pinot noir: two to eight years Sangiovese: two to eight years Tempranillo: two to 10 years Chardonnay: one to six years Riesling: two to 30 years Semillon (dry): two to seven years Semillon (botrytised): five to 25 years