This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Aug. 25, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080825.php.
Which wines are worth aging?
My comment in Wednesday's article about two mature California Cabernets about most wines not being intended for aging inspired many of you to ask an obvious follow-up question: How can you tell which wines will benefit from time in the cellar?
The short answer is that there is no short answer. As I observed in the previous article, most wines aren't made to be aged. Only a relatively small proportion of wines (like the row of 1982 Bordeaux pictured above in our Graphics Edition) will benefit from cellaring. Most wines, made to be enjoyed while they are young and fresh, will simply lose their fruit and become unpalatable with time.
If you're interested in cellaring wine for your own enjoyment, you'll soon learn the few simple rules of thumb that serve as a general guide to selecting ageworthy bottles. Then you may spend the rest of your years as a wine hobbyist picking up the nuances - the variations among vintage, region and producer that endow one wine with great potential for maturation while its similar neighbor won't share that longevity. And more puzzling still, the wines that defy the conventional wisdom by outliving their seeming promise ... or by going around the bend long before they should.
As a quick refresher, let's turn back to the Frequently Asked Questions file in our WineLovers Questionary, "Old Wine: Is it still any good?"
"As a general guide, the wines that usually reward aging are the robust reds - the better Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhones from France, their counterparts (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah) from the New World; sturdy Italian reds; and the rich, strong dessert wines like Port, Sauternes and the fine late-harvest Rieslings from Germany (and maybe the most long-lived of all, Madeira).
"Storage is also a consideration. The ideal 'cellaring' temperature for fine wines is 55F, about 13C. If your wine has been kept at much warmer temperatures or subject to extremes of temperature and sudden variations, it is much less likely to have survived many years than a wine kept under constant cool conditions. If your wine bottle appears significantly less than normally full, that's a bad sign. So is evidence of substantial leakage around the cork or excessive sediment in the bottle.
"If you're feeling adventurous, old wine can't hurt you. It doesn't turn toxic or unhealthy with age. But if you're planning to try your old wine for a special occasion, it's wise to have a "backup" bottle around to pinch-hit if needed."
Obviously, similar principles apply if you're buying young wines now to enjoy in 5, 10 or 20 years or more: Don't bother with the cheapest wines, and particularly while you're in the learning process, stick with the "safe" varieties and regions mentioned above. Once you've got them, store them as closely as you can to optimal cellar temperature as they mature, quietly and undisturbed.
Here are a couple more simple tactics:
Ask trustworthy sources. Develop a relationship with the knowledgeable people at a good local wine shop. They won't steer you wrong in making decisions about which wines to buy for the cellar.
Go online. If you prefer a guide with no commercial ax to grind, try asking the experts in a friendly online wine forum. Our WineLovers Discussion Group was the first, and we like to think it's still the best. Log in and register at
You could look it up. One of the most useful resources for the would-be cellarmaster is the British wine scribe Hugh Johnson's useful little Pocket Wine Book, which has been updated annually for well over 30 years now. Subdivided by country and region, it offers small-print reviews of many thousands of wines, along with coded information about which vintages are ready to drink and which are worth keeping. To purchase the current edition from Amazon.com (with a small commission to WineLoversPage.com), click
Quickly told, let's wrap up with a mini-tasting report on a couple of beautifully aged, 26-year-old wines I enjoyed at a party last week. Both from the famous but controversial 1982 vintage in Bordeaux, they had been kept not in a proper cellar but simply left on their sides in our host's air-conditioned basement. They still bore their original price tags from the early 1980s, in the then-spendy range of $15 to $27. Well-cellared examples of these particular producers would go in the $150 to $300 range at auction today.
As it turned out, the bottles were still properly full and their corks were wine-stained but sturdy and sound. I decanted two samples into clear glass pitchers to get the clear wine away from any murky sediment, and the wines were the hit of the evening. Although much of their youthful fruit had faded, it had been replaced with the delicious "tertiary" aromas discussed in Wednesday's column; and the flavor retained remnants of fruit, complex nuances, and excellent acid balance. Now, that's what cellaring is all about.
Chateau Lynch-Bages 1982 Pauillac
Chateau Calon-Ségur 1982 Saint-Estephe
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Randy's Culinary Wine & Food Adventures: Albariño, the Gastronomic Grape
WineLovers Discussion Group: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns. Please note that for a summer break, we've put the FoodLetter on a short-term vacation and are skipping some (but not all) Friday editions.
Two well-aged Cal Cabs (Aug. 20, 2008)
Sparring partner (Aug. 18, 2008)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: