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How Long to Age Wine?

My dad, who has a nice collection of age-worthy wines, often opens up a bottle and says, “This one needs a few more years,” or, “This one’s over the hill.” Managing a wine cellar, even a small one, is not an easy task. Every bottle has its own optimal date range for consumption. Drink it too soon and you might get harsh tannins and unripe fruit; wait too long and the flavor is lost forever.

WineEducation.com has a good rundown on wine aging. The last line of the article is probably the most important point: the only way to know if the wine is ready to drink is to taste it. If you buy your wine by the case or half-case, this allows some room for trial and error. Open a bottle and if it needs more time (tannins still a bit rough, fruit to powerful), let the rest of the case sit for another year and try again. That way you get to taste the evolution of the same wine as it ages – a fantastic experience that really highlight the fact that you’re drinking something that’s still alive and ever-changing.

If you don’t have cases of wine to experiment with, check out WineAging.com’s searchable guide, which lists the optimal year to pop the cork out (or unscrew the top). CellarNotes.net also has a chart to use as a general guide.

Personally, I’ve found the over-the-hill wines much more disappointing than under-ripe bottles. When you’re expecting something great from a wine that’s been lying down for decades, and all you get is a bland experience, it’s a real letdown. Drink a wine too young, on the other hand, and it’s still bursting with flavor – it might make your cheeks pucker, and it won't be as complex as it could be, but it still has potential for greatness. So when in doubt, just drink it, and if you’re lucky, you’ll hit the wine aging sweet spot.

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“How Long to Age Wine?”

  1. Blogger Bill Rasche Says:

    Sometimes general guidance is the place to start. Here are guidelines in my own cellar, though there are always exceptions.

    - Drink whites by 5 years from the vintage date.
    - Drink most reds by 8 years from the vintage date. For tannic reserves, another year or two is usually OK.

    Of course, cellar conditions also affect how long a wine will last. These guidelines are for a typical mid-west basement out of any direct sunlight, primarily with California wines.

    Your mileage may vary, etc.

  2. Blogger The Joggler Says:

    Thanks Bill. Those are some good general guidelines.