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Dear Dr. Vinny,

You mention “older wines” on occasion. How many years past the vintage date is considered an "older wine"?

—Nick M., Omaha, Neb.

Dear Nick,

As you might imagine, wine age is a pretty subjective thing, and can vary from wine to wine and person to person. But I feel most wines will be showing their age by the 10-year mark, and thus fall into the “older wine” category. That doesn’t mean that the wine is over the hill, just that it is no longer young. There are plenty of wines that can show well for decades or longer.

Wine age can present itself faster with white wines and slower with reds (and faster with wines under cork and slower with ones under screw cap), but I’ll stand by my belief that a decade later, the aging process definitely has taken effect, and is most likely perceptible.

So what does that mean when I say a wine’s age will show? As a wine matures, phenolic compounds link together and drop out of suspension and become sediment—and I definitely start to notice sediment with most wines by 10 years. You’ll also pick up that a wine’s color fades and edges more toward brown tones. Fruit flavors that once seemed fresh and vibrant might fade into the background and the wine might exhibit more floral, spice and earth components. The perception of acidity and tannins will evolve and the wine might seem mellower.

—Dr. Vinny

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