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Dear Dr. Vinny,

How can someone tell whether a wine will age well, assuming they don’t know the quality or producer of the wine they are drinking?

—Robb, Cincinnati

Dear Robb,

Predicting that a wine will age well isn’t much different than looking into a crystal ball. But I don’t think someone can look into that crystal ball and come up with a good recommendation unless they’ve actually tasted the wine (and therefore know the quality). Knowing the producer can help, since some producers have reputations for making wines with the stuffing to age. If you have experience of tasting aged wines from a given producer, then you can make some assumptions about how other wines from that producer will age. In any case, it’s important to point out that the vast majority of wines out there drink well upon release, and most aren’t meant for aging.

One of the first things to understand about aging wines is that a wine cellar is not a wine hospital. If a wine is flawed or just not very good, it doesn’t magically become better with age. Secondly, a wine’s aging potential not only varies from bottle to bottle, it varies from person to person—you may find that you just don’t like the characteristics of older wines, so you’d be better off enjoying them while they’re young. Thirdly, if you have a bottle you want to age, you really have to take care of that bottle, and that means proper cellar conditions.

When I’m assessing a wine that can age well, I see something special in it. It has to do with a combination of the wine’s structure, its flavors, and its intensity. Sometimes a young wine can give you glimpses of its greatness, but it might be very compact and inexpressive at that moment. I’ve had years of experience of tasting wines of all ages, from barrel samples to wines that were older than I am. That experience certainly helps make my crystal ball a little clearer.

—Dr. Vinny

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