More than one person asked me during the Wine Spectator Wine Experience, "What is the fascination with wines aging?" To one inquistor's ears, several vintners emphasized not only the youth of their wines, but that they had long lives ahead.
It's a good question. In my experience, and to my tastes (I'm not particularly a fan of aged wines), most wines don't improve with age. Most of the time they stay about the same for the first few years of their lives and only get worse from there, so there's little motivation to cellar them.
But there are many noteworthy wines on the other side of the ledger. Old or long-lived wines evoke excitement among connoisseurs, a sort of time travel that can provide a unique drinking experience, provided you like the wines once they've aged. The biggest tradeoff that comes with age affects its fruit profile. The compromise: pure fruit vitality for the subtle nuances that may come with time.
I test my own taste preferences for wines of different ages all the time (see my recent tasting of 30 vintages of Shafer or my annual Cabernet retrospectives). Young wines almost always taste better to me.
Much of the admiration for older wines is an Old World affectation. The English, in particular, were fond of cellaring wines such as Claret (Bordeaux), Vintage Port, Sauternes and German late-harvest Rieslings. To them, a wine's longevity was tied to its quality. That is, those that held up the longest were the best. Aging wines also set the wine market off kilter. As the British love of aged wines grew, producers were forced to absorb the cost of inventory, hence the rise of the British wine trade with the money and storage capacity and the selling of Bordeaux futures.
To properly age a wine, one also needs a suitable cellar environment. A couple of years ago, during a Wine Experience tasting of first-growth Bordeaux, Baron Eric de Rothschild, an owner of Château Lafite Rothschild, reminisced about the joys of drinking old Lafites.
On occasion, when by himself at the château, the Baron liked to drink one bottle of his favorite vintage (1959 I believe) by himself. Of course, Baron Eric had a cellar full of great Lafites dating back decades. Lafite has a genuine track record for aging and gaining, and if one of Rothschild's '59s were to be a dud (and he would know) he could retrieve another.
It's also worth sharing that vintners aren't all in agreement on aged wines either: Angelo Gaja and Piero Antinori aren't huge fans of older wines; Paul Draper of Ridge is.
These days, many of us are lucky to have one bottle of a given wine. My advice: Drink it. If it's spectacular, then you can try to hunt down another.