Michelle Zaludek
 
February 5, 2017 | Winery Blog | Michelle Zaludek

Laying Down Wine

How long to lay down wine and when to drink it

 

“How long should I keep this before opening it?” is one of the most common questions heard in the tasting room.

You might have even asked it yourself, only to likely hear a less committal answer than you might have liked.

One of the hardest things to accurately predict is the lifespan of a wine. There is no blanket period by which any type of wine can be laid down.one Pinot Noir from a specific winery in a specific vintage, and a specific vineyard might age very well, peaking at around ten years. But another Pinot Noir, from the same winery but a different vineyard and a different vintage might be much better drunk immediately.

There are so many innate variables built into the winemaking process that blanket aging expectations are fraught with error.

Don’t get us wrong — some wines are definitely made to age and some are not; there is nothing wrong with either type of wine.

But as with many of wine’s characteristics, its ability to age is definitely a matter of personal taste. Drink it now or lay it down is one of our mottos at the winery, because we believe both old and young wines should be enjoyed. You get to choose as a wine drinker what your preferences are.

 

Why do people put so much emphasis on aging, then?

The idea of aging wine, allowing it to change and evolve slowly over time until it becomes something better than it once was is a common goal of many wine aficionados.

Wine has been purposefully aged ever since it was made by the Greeks. Although, the wines they produced tended to be much more tannic, so age was a near-necessity to make most of them enjoyable.

Strange as it might sound strange to today’s wine lover, drinking young wine has actually been considered preferential for much of history.

For hundreds of years, Europeans drank older wines more often, but they preferred younger wines when they were available. Older wines were heavily fortified (usually with brandy) to protect them from spoiling and damage during shipping. Fortification made them last, so they were more commonly available. Meanwhile, younger wines, were generally unfortified, had to be enjoyed immediately, and were much more expensive.

This changed with the advent of corks as bottle stoppers. Once it was discovered that wines stored using corks would often improve over time — rather than turning into vinegar behind the cellar owner’s back — older wines developed a certain cache. People began purposefully cellaring and saving their wines.

And few are immune to the romantic notion of laying a wine down for years only to gather it up for a special occasion, brushing the fine layer of dust off the otherwise perfect label — despite that fact that many if not most contemporary wines are not designed to be aged.

 

I shouldn’t be aging my wine?

Nowadays, you rarely want to seriously age a bottle, and few people really have the perfect facilities to do so.

Aging wine means cellaring wine, and that is a serious commitment. Wines age best at 55 degrees fahrenheit in dark, dry places where they are rarely, if ever, moved from their horizontal resting positions. This means that wines aged in the kitchen don’t have a chance.

 

So I can age my wine when I win the lottery, then.

No, you can still age it now. You don’t need to invest thousands into a wine cellar, but you should keep three things in mind:

  • You’ll need a cool, steady temperature as close to 55 degrees as you can manage — a steady temperature is as important as a cool one.
  • Wine should be aged horizontally, not upright, otherwise the cork can dry out and the wine will oxygenate.
  • You must avoid direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will break down and destroy wine, much like with vampires.

 

Alright, fine, got it. I want to age my wine. What ages best?

Certain wines do have reputations for aging well. In the U.S., many people think of Cabernet Sauvignon when they think of age-friendly wine. And with good reason. Cabernets tend to be structural with good acid and tannins, allowing them to age well.

This doesn’t mean all Cabernets will be amazing after 10 or 20 years in the bottle. But it has made people associate the varietal with aging.

Pinot Noirs also have a reputation for aging well — hats off to “Sideways” for that. However, many Pinot Noirs from the New World don’t age all that well because they tend to be top heavy, laden with fruit, and low on tannins and acid.

We’re not saying that to discourage you from aging a Pinot Noir, but to emphasize that when you’re looking for a wine to age, the most important qualities to look for include balance, tannins, and acid. The variety itself is less important.

Tannins are a natural preservative found in wine, which is what makes the majority of red wines OK to age.

It’s also the reason that most white wines age about as well as well as an avocado (i.e., not well). The majority of white wines just don’t have enough tannins to improve over time. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. German Rieslings, for example, age fairly well because of their high acidity. And sweet white wines age well because their sugar acts as a natural preservative.

So, generally speaking, you’re looking for a wine with ample tannins and/or acid and balanced structure. Which means that you’re not necessarily looking for wines that are at their absolute peak when you sample them at a tasting room. You’re looking for potential — what the French call “vin de garde,” or wine to save.

The more structured the wine, the firmer the tannins, and the brighter the acidity, the longer it can usually lay down.

Rule of thumb: If you’re going to lay something down, it’s best to buy about three bottles.

Open one after three years. It should have softened and opened up some, but the tannins could still be firm. If so, then open the next one after another two years. At this point, you’re five years in and the wine should be pretty great. But if you still think the wine could be a little better, save the last bottle for five more years. After a total of 10 years, most heavily structured New World vines will be around their peak, and you’ve had the other two bottles to give you insight into the wine’s aging process.

 

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