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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is there a way to find out whether an aged wine is "closed" or going through a "dumb phase," or whether it’s ready to drink, without having to open the bottle to find out? Is there any rule of thumb?

—Dan, Austria

Dear Dan,

The short answer is no—there is no way to tell just by looking at a bottle how it will taste, where it is in its aging development and whether or not you will like it. A “dumb phase” is an awkward, transitional period in a wine’s evolution from youth to maturity in which the wine can seem muted and lack expression. Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict if, when and how long a dumb phase will last. Wine Spectator reviews always come with drink recommendations to give you a place to start. But every wine is different, and details like how the bottle was stored and your own personal preference for wine make the perfect time for you to pop the cork difficult to predict.

That said, with experience, you might be able to make some pretty good guesses. I think this starts with understanding how much age you like on your wines. Five to seven years might be the sweet spot for you with Napa Cabernets, but Barolos really start to sing at about the 20-year mark. If you only have experience with newly released wines, you might not like the way the flavors develop. I’ve often said that aged wines are an acquired taste.

Once you start narrowing down your personal preferences, you can start to add in things like producer, grape variety, region and vintage to the “Is it ready to drink?” equation.

—Dr. Vinny

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