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Dear Dr. Vinny,
How do you know if a wine will continue to improve or not?
—Jorge, São Paulo, Brazil
Predicting how or if a wine will age well is not an exact science, but if you taste a lot of wines both old and young, you can make a pretty good guess. Some producers have a reputation for making wines that age well, and particular regions, varietals and vintages will lend themselves to a longer life. Keep in mind that not only are most wines made to be enjoyed within a couple years, the vast majority of wines out there will drink well upon release, even the ones that are cellar-worthy. It’s not like a wine is bad and undrinkable one day and then suddenly it turns into something delicious. One of my favorite sayings is, “A wine cellar is not a wine hospital.”
For me, in order for a wine to age well, it needs good flavors, some intensity and a structure that lends itself to evolving. I think sometimes people just focus on the tannins of a wine—the puckery, drying sensation that comes from grape skin and seeds and barrel influence. But if a wine is overly tannic when young, while some of it might soften in the cellar, it’s not that simple. I’ve had older wines that were nothing but a mouthful of older tannins. It really needs to be in balance, even in its youthful state.
Of course I have to make my typical disclaimers any time I get into a discussion about aging wine lest I lead you down a bad path: you should only age wines if you know you like the flavor of older wines, and aging wine will only work if you have proper cellar conditions—a cool, mildly humid environment away from light, heat, temperature fluctuation and vibration.
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