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When to cellar a wine?

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RonicaJM

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When to cellar a wine?

by RonicaJM » Tue Sep 05, 2006 3:55 pm

I guess my question isn't so much when to cellar a wine, but how do you know a wine is cellar worthy? For example, I bought a wine that said on the back label that it could be stored for up to 4 years after the vintage. The wine merchant told me that the quality of the wine dictated that it should be drunk now. I bought a bordeaux that didn't have any info on it, but the merchant said it was ready to drink now.

How does one come to know thses things?
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Peter May

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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by Peter May » Tue Sep 05, 2006 4:08 pm

I'd be inclined to take the word of your merchant. I'd expect that he's (she'd) would have tasted it before buying.

A lot of wineries boast about how long their wines will age. I take it with a very large pinch of salt -- a lot of it is marketing hype.

One thing is certain -- too much wine is drunk too old rather than too old.

Open it, drink it and enjoy it.
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OW Holmes

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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by OW Holmes » Tue Sep 05, 2006 4:20 pm

First, a few terms. "Ready to drink now" may mean must be consumed immediately or open for business but will improve upon cellaring. "Can be stored for up to four years" may mean that it won't turn to vinegar in four years, may hold its fruit for four years, or may actually develop some interesting secondary flavors in four years - no way to know based only on that statement.
So, when to cellar? How to know?
Experience. Your experience, others experience, the wines experience.
With experience you will know that most bordeaux will at least hold for a few years, With experience you will learn that some bordeaux wines last considerably longer than others, and take longer than others to be at their prime. You will learn that even some common bordeaux takes years and years to reach peak (Sociando Mallet for example), and some are as good as they are every going to be within a year of release. And you will learn that some vintages make for long lasting wines, and others short term.
Until you develop that experience, and learn of the experience of the region and the experience of individual wines within the region, you can rely on the experience of others, both general and specific.
General guidelies are found in vintage charts, that will show, say, California Cabernet from X year is either "drink or hold" or "drink now" or "hold" or, for that matter, past prime and on the decline. Decent guidelines but no where near as good as specific information.
For specific information, do a search on the wine. See if you can find a reviewer who gives an estimate of the best drinkability of the wine. If not, maybe some enthusiastic amateur has posted his or her guestimate on cellar tracker or some other internet cite, or posted something on this board or another suggesting that he/she opened the wine too young, or includes a comment "will be better in five years" or something like that.
The most specific you can get, however, is to ask.
OK, so much for the good stuff. Now for some almost useless generalizations.
Most wine sold in grocery stores, and most wine that is under $15, is meant to be consumed immediately, and will not improve much, if at all, with extended cellaring.
Most red wines, including those in the $10 - 20 range, will soften a bit with a bit of age, say 6 months to 2 years, and may actually "iimprove" in that sense - and a rare one may even take on some added complexity.
Wines that age well include cabernet (including bordeaux), and higher end (and higher priced) wines from Spain, Italy, France. Wines that do not significantly improve with age are lower end wines from the new world.
And before I get flamed for the generalizations, I hasten to add that there are exceptions.
I cellar (for 5 or more years) bdx and rhones from france, some tempranillo from spain, some borolo and brunello from italy, some rieslings from germany. I temporarily cellar (1 to 5 years) many more that I think will slightly improve or at least hold for a while, and this includes many more from spain, france, italy, and california. Well, not many from california but that's because I don't have many from there.
If you look at the mocool notes, you will see what kind of wines were produced for the "sweet sixteen" theme - those were by and large wines that were meant for cellaring, and did well by it.
-OW
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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by Howie Hart » Tue Sep 05, 2006 4:22 pm

Actually, you should "cellar" all wines that you don't plan to drink immediately. By immediately, I mean within a few weeks after purchasing. How long they remain cellared is where it gets complicated. As Robin has pointed out numerous times, 95% of the wine sold is ready to be consumed when purchased. Its the other 5% that you need to pay attention to. As far as a specific wine is concerned, seek the advice of fellow geeks and do research on the winery and vintage.
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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by OW Holmes » Tue Sep 05, 2006 4:27 pm

Oh, and forgot rule # 1. Cellar wines you like. No sense cellaring age worthy stuff that you will not enjoy.
-OW
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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by Sam Platt » Tue Sep 05, 2006 5:04 pm

Ronica, I cellar almost everything at least short term, as Howie suggested. I have relatively few bottles marked for long term storage, however. Those wines include good quality/good vintage Bordeaux (2nd growth), Burgundy (1er and Grand Cru), Riesling, Barolo, Vintage Porto, Sauternes and an Eiswein or two. They make up a very small portion of the total bottles that I consume. My advice is to buy stuff for near term drinking unless you run into a good buy on some age worthy stuff. I like '96 vintage Burgundy so I splurge whenever I run across a decently priced example.
Sam

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Ian Sutton

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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by Ian Sutton » Tue Sep 05, 2006 5:07 pm

A very fair question and sadly some of the wine label and wine shop advice is ill-judged.

The easiest way to make a good stab at when to drink a wine is from history of previous vintages. Say for instance if a 1982 Ch. Palmer is just approaching it's peak, then for a comparable vintage (say) 2000 we could expect it to reach it's peak at a similar age (i.e. 24 years old). Thus you might see a drinking window of 2020-2030. This assumes similarity in vintage conditions, winemaking technique etc. In this scenario, we're in the realm of educated guesswork and many professional wine critics are quite good at this (albeit it's not too difficult to find a howler of a mistake in hindsight).

Without this history, tasting the wine can give plenty of clues, but the guesswork is much more variable. Although various elements of a wine are viewed as providing the elements needed for cellaring (acidity, tannins, good fruit) it's not that easy and it tends to come down to "is the wine in balance and of a style that warrants cellaring". This is very much a judgement call and I think even professional wine critics struggle to judge longevity of wines they've not encountered before.

Add to this the complication, that the "peak" of a wine is not a definite point in time as it varies between individuals and indeed between individual bottles (even from the same case, under the same conditions). Some people prefer primary traits of fruit, acidity, tannin with some supporting oak and revel in the pureness of the taste. Other (I'm more in this camp) prefer the wine to soften and take on secondary flavours from oak and the changes in the wine itself. Smells such as cedar, truffle, undergrowth or honey can appeal.

All this points to a very imprecise science.

What can you start looking for in wines you drink?

Tannins: If there's a dry astringency to the wine, sucking the moisture out of the mouth, then the tannins are still strong and would be expected to soften over time. Quite feasible to drink this sort of wine with a nice roast though. If the wine is very smooth and easy drinking, then there's probably not much tannin and is ready to drink.

Acidity: Very difficult to generalise, however I'll give it my best shot :wink: Acidity level does not change over time. However over time it softens. If a wine is very sharp tasting, it's feasible this will soften over time, but only of benefit if the rest of the wine can support this cellaring period. A classic example to discover this is with riesling young vs. old. Another is Hunter Valley Semillon from Australia. The great ability of acidity is to deliver mouth-watering "freshness" to the wine as it ages. With insufficient acidity the wine becomes "flabby" and tends towards a dull, almost stale taste. Too much though, and it's still searing, even after the fruit has died.

Alcohol: I hear comments that alcohol (and by insinuation, the more the better) is required to enable a wine to age. I also hear comments that high alcohol wines don't age. I'm not sure I want to enter this debate, except to say that wines that are in balance seem to do ok. If a wine has a very spicy alcoholic nose and a burning sensation from the alcohol, then as the fruit dies away, there's a risk that the alcohol will dominate. If the fruit lasts, then there's every chance the alcohol will remain in balance.

What else can you do? Try some older wines. A good wine merchant might have a selection and it would be good to try an older version of a wine style you like. Try to gauge whether you prefer the younger wine or the older one, or like many people, you feel both have merits.

There really is an awful lot of guesswork in judging drinking windows and don't treat the critics views as gospel. They're very useful when you know they have a good understanding of the wine or at least the wine style. If you feel they're off subject then the credibility should drop.

For the most part I'm happy to go with a critics drinking window for a wine I have one bottle of and no prior experience. If I've tasted it once I might revise my opinion. If I've had 3-4 bottles over the last 6 years, I'll be quite a bit more confident of when I'd like to drink the remaining bottle(s).

I hope this is of use

regards

Ian
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DebA

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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by DebA » Tue Sep 05, 2006 11:06 pm

RonicaJM wrote:I guess my question isn't so much when to cellar a wine, but how do you know a wine is cellar worthy? For example, I bought a wine that said on the back label that it could be stored for up to 4 years after the vintage. The wine merchant told me that the quality of the wine dictated that it should be drunk now. I bought a bordeaux that didn't have any info on it, but the merchant said it was ready to drink now.

How does one come to know thses things?

____________________________________-

This was an excellent question that I have wondered about too, Ronica, and the thread has been hugely helpful! Thanks for asking and thanks for all the great answers. I still tend to purchase wine with immediate consumption in mind, as in a week or so from purchase. There are few things in life worth saving for "someday" when the next 5 min. aren't a sure thing in this world. My motto is to live this day to the fullest! More tomorrows are icing on the cake. :cool:
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Re: When to cellar a wine?

by Isaac » Wed Sep 06, 2006 12:52 pm

Peter May wrote:I'd be inclined to take the word of your merchant. I'd expect that he's (she'd) would have tasted it before buying.

A lot of wineries boast about how long their wines will age. I take it with a very large pinch of salt -- a lot of it is marketing hype.

One thing is certain -- too much wine is drunk too old rather than too old.

Open it, drink it and enjoy it.
"too much wine is drunk too old rather than too old."?

From the rest of your post, may I assume you meant that too much wine is drunk too old rather than too young? But how can that be, when most wine is drunk within a few hours of purchase?

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