Should a highly regarded Napa Cabernet be over the hill already at age 7?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I don’t know much about aging wines, but I’ve been opening numerous 2010 Napa Cabernets that were properly cellared and they have tasted very weak in fruit and high in alcohol—basically undrinkable. Wine Spectator’s vintage chart says “drink or hold” (96 points), but I don't think they’re any good! Can you shed any light on this?

—John Z., Warwick, N.Y.

Dear John,

Thanks for clarifying that the wines have been properly stored—that’s always the first suspect when someone mentions older wines that taste off.

Next up, I’d make sure that your glassware is clean, and that you’re not serving the wines too warm (which makes the alcohol stick out) or too cold (which can dumb down the fruit flavors). I think big reds like Cabernet show best at around 65° F.

So if the wines are cared for and served properly, then we have to look at how the wines are aging. Wines evolve over time and change in flavor—fresh fruit notes will fade to dried fruit notes and tea flavors, and secondary and tertiary elements of earth, mushroom, nuts or tobacco leaf may emerge.

For some wines, there’s also an awkward, transitional period between its youth and its maturity, when the wines are considered to be going through a “dumb phase.” It’s a vague term, and based on anecdotal evidence. But I’ve experienced it: A wine might be inexpressive one day, but then show beautifully six months or a year later.

So it’s possible that you don’t like the flavor of aged wines, or that they are in an awkward phase, or that your personal tastes have evolved over time. I’ve written before about coming to realize you no longer like the wines in your cellar. My best advice is to take a break from your 2010 Cabernets and revisit them again sometime in the future.

—Dr. Vinny

Collecting Aging Wine Ask Dr. Vinny

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