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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have a 30-year-old Chardonnay. Is it drinkable?

—Henry, Cincinnati

Dear Henry,

I’ve often said in response to questions like this that trying to guess if your wine will taste OK is like trying to look into a crystal ball. But it also reminds me of asking a doctor to diagnose a mark on your skin just by describing it over the phone. I can give you some general idea of how things might go with the bottle, but you’ll need to crack it open for a real diagnosis—and go see a dermatologist about that mark.

So, when it comes to aging wine (and having it still taste good), it rarely happens randomly. That is, you have to start with a wine that has the stuffing to age, and then you have to store it properly, and then when you open it, it really helps if you like the taste of a well-aged wine, which can be quite different than the stuff you get right off the shelf at a wine shop or grocery store.

Most of the wines sold these days are made in a way to be enjoyed without aging, so you really need to pick one that has the concentration for a long life. When it comes to aging—especially for more than a few months—you really have to put some effort into maintaining your wine at a consistent temperature, away from light, heat and vibration, so that it has the best chance of aging well. I also recommend storing a bottle on its side so that you don’t give the cork a chance to dry out.

Some white wines do age well, but I really have to be clear that the fruit flavors and acidity in a 30-year-old wine will fade, and it could taste unlike anything you’re familiar with. Older Chardonnay will take on secondary notes of nuts, spices and earth, and you might not even recognize it from its youth.

—Dr. Vinny

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