Ask a Sommelier: Aging Wine
Q: I recently opened a bottle I had been aging for a few years, and although it tasted fine, I was left wondering whether I should have aged it even longer. How do you gauge the perfect drinking window?
A: There is no one-size-fits-all formula for determining a wine’s “perfect drinking window,” but here are some things to keep in mind. First, make sure the wine is designed for aging. In any given retail store, about 95 per cent of the wines are produced to be consumed within 6 months of purchase, which means that wines actually designed to age are in the vast minority. Second, assuming your bottle is age worthy, look for guidelines referring to your particular bottle. What does the producer recommend? (Check their website.) What do the wine experts recommend? (Ask us!) And what is the general rule for wines of similar ilk? (For example, expensive Barolo can usually age for at a decade or two).
When it actually comes to tasting a bottle, pay particular attention to: a) the amount of fruit you taste; and b) the degree of tannins. All wine should have at least some fruit on the palette, so if you’re struggling to perceive any, that is a pretty good sign that the wine is over-the-hill. Tannins are that mouth-drying element that allow fine wines to age. If the tannins are still in-your-face and chewy (and the fruit is still strong), then you know the wine could have been aged for a good deal of time longer. If the tannins are soft and less pronounced (and the fruit is only barely hanging in there), then you know you’re “in the window.”
When deciding when to taste, keep your personal priorities in mind. As a wine ages, its fruit will tend to decrease, and the other tastes and aromas will tend to increase. So if you’re into big and fruity, you might want to question the logic of aging wines in the first place.
Ultimately it’s an imprecise guessing game based on personal preference, a little bit of general knowledge, and luck. Aging wine is constantly evolving. And remember the rule (if you can afford it): always buy at least two bottles of something you intend to age to better your chances of catching that vintage at its pinnacle.