A common misconception about wine is that if it’s older, it must be better. In all those films and TV programmes about decaying aristocratic families between the wars, whenever wine is featured, it comes out of an ancient cellar, in a bottle covered in dust to be decanted by candlelight. You just don’t see them drinking the latest Beaujolais Nouveau on Downton Abbey.
But in actuality:
1. The vast majority of wine (over 95%) is made to be drunk within two years of bottling.
2. Of the remaining 5%, just as much is drunk too old as is drunk too young.
The 95% Rule
As far as the 95% category goes, this includes all rosé, virtually all dry white and the vast majority of reds. In fact, if you’re one of the overwhelming majority who would very rarely, if ever, spend more than £15 on a bottle of wine, for all practical purposes it includes everything.
Hardly any wine under £15 a bottle will benefit from ageing for more than a couple of years, and in most cases it will only get worse. Rosé is a classic example. Always buy the freshest rosé you can get, checking the vintages on every bottle. This is wine that is supposed to taste fresh, fruity and lively, so the latest vintage is released just a few months after the harvest. Right now (July 2012) you should be drinking 2011s from the Northern Hemisphere and, in a few months’ time, the 2012s from the Southern Hemisphere. Rosé that is more than a year or two old will have turned brown and lost its fruit flavour, and the same goes for all those whites and reds that are made for early enjoyment. If what you’re looking for is fruit and freshness (and it usually is) you should choose youth over age.
The Age-Worthy Wines: Is it Worth It?
A wine made for ageing is a completely different product, made in an entirely different way and to a different end. Here, the object is not to create something with primary fruit flavour that can be enjoyed immediately, but to make a wine with the foundations and structure to change and improve over time. The bottling of the wine marks only the end of one stage of the making of it and the beginning of another. When young, many of the world’s great wines will be almost undrinkable, because they are loaded with the high tannin and acidity levels that will help them survive and develop over many years. In short, they are simply not ready, and this is the cause of many a disappointment as the inexperienced wine drinker forks out his or her hard-earned cash on something really special, only to find the drink impenetrable.
Of course, the reason wines are made like this and the reason they command the highest prices is because when they do come around, after many years, when the various elements have mellowed and combined to create a harmonious whole, the result is a drink of complexity and depth that cannot be rivalled. These wines, properly stored and drunk at just the right moment in their evolution, are the wines which change people’s perception of what wine can be and make them into fanatics. For these moments it is worth the effort, but you’ve got to choose carefully and know when to drink them. Don’t wait too long. Even the best will decline, albeit slowly, and when a wine is at its peak you shouldn’t be afraid to seize the moment.
Wines to Age: An Incomplete List
Generally speaking, only the best, most expensive wines are really age-worthy. But, as a guide, here is an incomplete list of classic wines for ageing:
- · The best red Bordeaux
- · The best red Burgundy
- · The best sweet whites
- · Vintage Port
- · The best Champagne
- · The very best white Burgundy
- · The best German Riesling
- · The very best reds from Italy, Spain, Australia, California…
Ben Greene blogs about fine and rare wines and has worked with wine merchants for the past 10 years. When he’s not online or at a tasting he enjoys cricket, cooking and the occasional deviation from wine to beer.