How old would a wine have to be before it is undrinkable?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’m sure there are variables, but generally how old would a wine have to be before it is undrinkable? I read about auctions selling wines that are a hundred years old, or even older. They can’t possibly be any good, can they?

—Jerry, Minneapolis

Dear Jerry,

I’ve personally tried some really old wines—including a Port that was about a hundred years old—that were fantastic. I’ve had others that were over the hill at their 10th anniversary.

Many if not most wines are made to be drunk more or less immediately, and they’ll never be better than on the day they’re released. Even in the case of wines made with the intent to age, I think the vast majority will be past their prime by year 30 or 40, with a few very special exceptions. The variables that go into an older wine continuing to age well are extensive, as you might imagine. The wine has to have the structure to age, the storage conditions need to be optimal, and for any of this to be worthwhile, the person drinking the wine at the time the cork is pulled has to be a fan of the distinctive characteristics of older wines.

This is a good time to point out that a wine cellar is not a wine hospital—bad wines don’t get magically better with age, they just get older.

—Dr. Vinny

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