Saving Wine

Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore?
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My greatest wine dream—and I'll bet it's yours, too—was a wine cellar. Not just the actual cool-temperature space, but one that was filled. I dreamed of a cellar so full that I could easily forget about whole cases of wine for years at a time, the better to let them age to a fantasized perfection.

That dream came true. It took me years—decades, really—to achieve. And it cost me a disproportionate amount of my limited and precious discretionary income, especially when I was only just starting out as a writer. I was motivated, obsessed even, by a vision of what might be called futuristic beauty. How soaringly beautiful it would be in 15 or 20 years!

I wasn't wrong—then. But I wouldn't be right for today. What's changed? Surely me, of course. I've had decades of wine drinking to discover that my fantasized wine beauty only rarely became a reality. But I had to find that out for myself. And I'm glad I did.

But it isn't all personal, either. In recent years it's become obvious that an ever greater number of wines that once absolutely required extended aging no longer do.

Simply put, most of today's fine wines—not all, mind you—will reach a point of diminishing returns on aging after as few as five years of additional cellaring after release. Stretch that to a full 10 years of additional aging and I daresay you will have embraced fully 99 percent of all the world's wines, never mind how renowned or expensive.

I can hear you already. What about this famous red Bordeaux? Or that fabled red Burgundy? What about grand cru Chablis? Or a great Brunello di Montalcino? Or Barolo?

Well, what about them? Yes, all of those wines and still others, such as German and Alsatian Rieslings, Napa Valley Cabernets and Hungarian Tokajis, reward aging.

But let me tell you something: With only a handful of ultratraditionalist exceptions, the modern versions of even these wines don't require anywhere near as much aging as their forebears.

This doesn't mean that today's versions of these wines are lesser. Rather, it's that fine wines have universally changed, sometimes radically so. And our tastes have changed, too.

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