Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
How can you tell if an older, unopened wine is still good? I have several bottles of Charles Krug Cabernet from 1960 that have been in a cool cellar (not a wine cellar unfortunately) for almost 40 years. Are they any good that old?
—Geni M., Coronado, Calif.
The only way to find out if you like the way something tastes is to taste it. This is definitely true for older bottles of wine, especially if you don’t already know whether you’re a fan of older wines in general. If the wine has been resting in a cool cellar for all this time, there’s a good chance it aged well—as in, it didn’t get exposed to heat which might “cook” the flavors. If it was lying on its side, there’s also a good chance that the cork stayed moist and won’t turn to sawdust in your hands when you try to open it.
But even if a wine has been perfectly aged, I can’t tell you if you’ll like it, though I’ve had some Napa wines from the 1960s that have been terrific. It certainly will be a curiosity to see what it’s like now, so I think you should get some friends over and open at least one of the bottles.
Be sure to set the bottle upright for a day or two to let any sediment settle to the bottom, and then follow my advice for decanting, keeping in mind that older wines tend to fade pretty quickly once you open them up. Enjoy! Some of the most amazing wines I’ve ever enjoyed have been older gems.
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