Wine that's worth waiting for
Uncorked by Thor Iverson
Two weeks ago
I wrote about old wines: what they taste like and where to find
them. I ended with some homework: pick up a few bottles to see if you're into
the complex, magical taste of mature wine.
If you did try a few bottles, or if you already know you like the taste of
mature wines, the next questions are purely practical: Which young wines have a
bright future? How can you identify and store them? And when should you drink
for a rundown of wine tastings, dinners, and events.
The answer is different for every wine, but there are some general principles.
Age-worthy reds will have enough
acidity to provide structure, and
to develop and change. In whites,
tannin is less important;
acidity is crucial.
Sweet wines must have good
acidity. But the most
crucial element for any wine is
no ingredient should overwhelm (or be overwhelmed by) the others. If the
tannins are huge, the fruit should be huge
as well; an unbalanced
wine will age, but it will age badly, and will be even
less drinkable old than it was young.
With practice, you'll be able to identify (by taste) wines worth laying down
for a few years. But if you're unsure, consult the experts (Robert
M. Parker Jr., for example, or a specialized journal such as the Wine
Spectator) for information on specific wines. As for
vintage charts (which
often include aging predictions), they're overgeneralized and fraught with
peril. However, there is some basic information that can be gleaned from
such charts, so I'm including a vintageless regional guide (right). Please
remember that these are only general suggestions, not ironclad rules. The
all affect a wine's aging potential, and
there's no substitute for actually tasting the wine. In fact, more wines
probably break these aging rules than follow them.
Reds usually need five years, but can easily age 25
years or more. Whites need at least five. Sauternes can be practically ageless,
but 20 to 40 years is a good range.
All depends on the vineyard. Reds age one to 15 years. Whites
need two to 10, and top wines are wasted if consumed young. Extremely
susceptible to bad storage.
Under $15, drink young. Over $15, especially riesling, up to a
decade or more.
Rhône: Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, and Cornas reds need at
least a decade. Other reds, three to five years (or more). Whites can be
exceedingly closed for up to 10 years, though Condrieu should be consumed very
Loire: Reds require five to 15 years; whites from Savennières and
Vouvray age 10 years or more. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé can sometimes
age, but Muscadet is usually best young. Sweet wines are 20-plus agers.
Vintage Champagne needs 10 years; all else is drinkable at
wine (Bandol, Minervois, Cahors)
can age for many years. Varietally-labeled wine (merlot, etc.) is for early
Piedmont: Barolo and Barbaresco may outlive all of us; Barbera and
Dolcetto are delicious young but age for about five years.
Tuscany: Top Chianti Classico Riserva and Brunello age five to 25 years;
most else is best in its youth.
Other Italian regions: Taurasi, Amarone, and wines from Trentino-Alto
Adige/Friuli can age for five to 20 years. Otherwise, there's great variety in
Germany and Austria: Effortless agers, whether dry or sweet. Cheapies
need five years, and sweet versions (like Beerenauslese) are retirement
Spain: Reds from the Ribera and Priorat, five to 10 years. Red and white
Riojas are often aged before sale, but can also last. Whites should be consumed
Portugal: Dry reds and whites
are for early drinking. Port can be
consumed anytime, but vintage Port will outlast your grandchildren.
California and Oregon: Only a very few top cabernets, merlots, and pinot
noirs will get better with age. Zin, unless very
tannic, should be drunk young.
cabs and merlots age five to 10 years. Everything else, drink up.
Australia and New Zealand: Shiraz ages five to 15 years, cabernet five
to 10. New Zealand sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs can age five years, but are
often best young. All else is for early drinking.
Other Southern Hemisphere: South African pinotage needs five years, and
a few Argentinean malbecs need the same. All else should be consumed early.
The best way to get a handle on how wines age is to buy several bottles of the
same wine and open them over a period of years. You'll identify the early
fruitiness, the closed stage
(if any), peak maturity, and even the slow
downslide (if you still have any of the wine left).
Here are several wines worth laying down for a while:
1995 Domaine Tempier Bandol ($19.99). A Provençal red that needs
years of age to strut its stuff. Right now, it's lead pencil, cedar, tobacco,
black pepper, and cassis wound up in a tight ball. Many hours of air reveal
some meatier flavors, but come back in 10 years to see what this wine's all
1996 Domaine d'Andézon Côtes-du-Rhône ($9.99). Spicy
berries, plum, prune, a little earth . . . and throwing tons
of sediment already. This young monster needs to be put to bed for a few years,
after which it will be the perfect foil for any sort of roasted meat or game.
1995 Château la Cardonne (Mêdoc) ($18). Pretty tight and
austere, with soft cassis and herbal flavors drifting along a leathery texture.
A big explosion of blueberry and licorice on the finish suggests that this wine
will be much better in 2005.
1990 Bollinger Grande Année ($65). The best vintage Champagne
I've tasted this year. Massive, with dark and almost meaty tones that grace a
broodingly fruity palate, and the flavor lingers until you put something else
in your mouth. About to close down until 2010 or so.
One final note: with mature
available at many wine shops, you might
wonder why you should bother aging your own wine at all. There are a few good
reasons. First, limited supply and hyped-up demand mean that many wines with
good aging potential are impossible to find even a few weeks after release. And
when those wines do reappear, it's usually at
a hefty premium. Second, but just
as important, aging wine gives you control over a wine's storage
conditions. As I've noted before,
indifferent importers, distributors, and
can do a lot of damage to wine. And the longer a wine's been
subjected to bad storage, the greater the chance that it's been damaged or
Good storage conditions mean a consistent temperature in the 50-63° range,
moderately high humidity (if possible), no vibration, and no bright lights. The
options for achieving this are myriad -- and a topic for another column -- but
a visit to a wine shop or a glance at the ads in most wine magazines will give
you some ideas.
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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