How Long Should You Age a Wine?

Last time I mentioned buying a rosé that turned out to be more than three years old, that may not have been properly stored, had turned a brown-orange color and had nutty flavors that a fresh, fruity rosé should not have.  And, several years ago I discovered a bottle of Chardonnay that had gotten stuck away at home and was re-discovered after a couple of years. It too had become a golden-brown color and lost all it original flavor.

The general rule of thumb on rosés is to drink them right away while they are fresh. And with white wines, they can tolerate some aging but most should be consumed within a couple of years after their vintage date. And, with red wines, the assumption is that they just keep getting better with age. But, this is not generally true.

Most wines today are meant to be consumed immediately.  Wineries bottle their wines when they are ready to drink. You should feel confident in opening a bottle of red wine immediately after you purchase it.  If you do choose to put away some wine to let it age, you have to be a bit careful. The line I love is that "A cellar is not a wine hospital, it doesn't make a bad wine better."  So before you put some wine away for aging, ensure that it's starting out as a good wine.

You also really need to be careful of how and where you age your wines. You need a cool (50-55 F), dark place with something around 75% humidity. If your basement fits these criteria, you are good to go. Otherwise, you really need a wine refrigerator. Not a standard refrigerator. They are too cold and have little to no humidity.

Then, the question becomes "How long should you age a wine?"  Well, you may be surprised by Wine Enthusiast's recent 2015 Vintage Chart (February 2016 issue).  Interestingly, their recommendation for Napa Cabernet's (considered a top U.S. wine) is that anything older than 2001 is either past its peak, in decline or may be undrinkable!  And that's with all the proper storage techniques. Reviewing all the rest of the U.S. made wines shows that they are past their peak if they were vinted in 2003 or earlier. And something like a Syrah, produced in the South Coast of California, is questionable if it's older than 2009.  So aging has its limits.

If you do choose to put some wine away, first ensure that it's a good wine to start with, store it under the proper controlled conditions, and don't let it go too long.  A common practice, among those who have wine cellars, is to purchase a case of a single wine and open a bottle each year to see how it's aging. You'd hate to put a case of good wine away for a dozen years, then pull out a bottle and find that they have all gone well past their peak.

There are many factors that affect a wine's ability to age, and we'll touch on those next time.  For now, I'm going to pull the cork on a nice 2010 Sonoma Zinfandel that should be at its peak maturity now. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Sextant Wheelhouse Zinfandel ($15)

This is a nice Zinfandel with flavors of blackberries, dark cherries and some toasted flavors that finishes well. It is a bold, somewhat jammy wine that works well just sipping by the glass or enjoying with a meal.