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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I found a bottle of [insert random old wine here] in a [cupboard/attic/garage/crypt/beaver's dam]. Is this wine delicious? And what is it worth?

—Many People, Many Places

Dear People,

This is my most frequently asked question, and it has many variations. I can't answer each one individually, so I'd like to try to address this situation as generally as possible.

First off, many—even most—wines don't get better with age. Wines that are built for aging are about as rare as people who truly have a taste for aged wine. Secondly, without perfect storage conditions, even wine built to age will age badly. Ideal storage conditions include a constant, humid, 55 degree-ish temperature, away from light, heat, temperature fluctuation and vibration. Even with all these variables accounted for, there's no guarantee that a wine will make it for the long haul.

The good news is, no matter how over-the-hill a wine is, it won't make you sick. It might not be appetizing, but it won't be any worse than sucking down a little vinegar, which won't kill you. There's no easy way to tell if a bottle of wine will taste good—except, of course, to open and drink it.

As far as the worth of the wine is concerned, not every bottle is collectible. If you're sure you have a gem, you can try to find out if there's a market for it by contacting wine merchants, the producer of the wine, or an auction house. Auction houses won't be interested unless you have documentation of how the wine was stored, and they prefer to deal with larger collections rather than individual bottles, which really aren't worth their time. There are also some Web sites that list thousands of wines and their market prices, as reported on by retailers all over the country.

—Dr. Vinny

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