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Drink Up or Procrastinate?

One of the wine enthusiasts I know is prone to say, “It’s not ready to drink. It’s a baby, a Lolita.” Sometimes I wonder if he ever enjoys a bottle of wine, since he drinks with guilt, always thinking the wine might be better with more age. Judgments about when wine will reach its peak are very subjective. For me, I don’t want to be encumbered by worried thoughts about how long to cellar wine - I just pop the cork when I feel like drinking it.

Most American Pinot Noirs are ready to drink upon release, and although they generally improve with a couple years of time in the cellar, they are not made with long term aging in mind. Sommelier Lauriann Greene-Solin has stated that only 20% of wines improve with aging beyond one or two years. This is because current winemaking techniques favor fruitiness and freshness, not extraction of tannins needed for a wine to age well. Over the years, tannins tend to round out, tastes blend together, and complex or secondary aromas (termed bouquet) will emerge if you catch a wine at its zenith.

Good balance in a wine (acidity and tannins in balance with alcohol) are a necessity for aging potential. Balance must be there from the beginning, because wines never become more balanced with time in the cellar.

Persistence is also important for aging. Count the number of seconds a wine’s aroma lasts once you spit or swallow the wine. If it lasts longer than six seconds, the aging potential is good. More than eight seconds, and the wine will likely last a number of years in the cellar.

The golden rule of cellaring wine is not to let it slip past its prime. When a wine is over the hill, it will never come back to life. When you discover a Pinot Noir is at its peak, pull the cork on every bottle you own, invite me over, and let’s party. If the wine is on the down slope, don’t bother to call, for I prefer Lolita over the decrepitude of old age.

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