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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What are the winemaking and viticultural differences between a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that is drinkable in the first few years of life and one that needs several years to age?
—Anna L., Atlanta, Georgia
It’s not as simple to say that a winemaker or winegrower needs to do one thing or another and suddenly the wine will be ageworthy or not. There are dozens of variables and dozens of decisions along the way that go into making a wine.
In general, most wines today are made in styles that taste good upon release—including wines that will also age well. After all, if a wine is disjointed or out of balance in its youth, it’s not going to magically change with age. It will just be an older version of a disjointed or out-of-balance wine.
I think the concept of aging a wine is confusing to most wine lovers, especially since many of us don’t drink aged wine regularly. I hesitate to say a wine “needs” to be aged or to give the impression that a wine is automatically better after some cellar time. A young wine will taste fresher and more lively, showcasing primary fruit flavors, while a well-aged wine will evolve away from those fresh notes. An older wine’s profile may not be to your liking—and that’s OK.
That said, there do seem to be some characteristics that give a wine the stuffing to age well. It has to be balanced and have sufficient concentration, as well as some intensity and good structure. How does a wine end up that way? It starts with the type of grape or clone, on the right site, with ideal harvest conditions. Along the way, a winemaker has to find the way to let the wine become expressive while maintaining balance. As important as anything else is how an older wine is aged—if it’s not in ideal storage conditions, it might not be showing its best.
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