Not many of us enjoy a well-appointed cellar, but many have procured a bottle so special the instant quandary starts about when to keep it and when to drink it. Somewhere in between “keeping it for a special occasion” and “live like you were dying” is the right time.
The standard in wine collecting and cellaring used to be, “keep it as long as you possibly can.” Many wines these days are simply not made for cellaring – So many are made to be perfectly drinkable upon purchase. Some of this stems from climate change in some of the most classic big red wine regions throughout Europe and some has to do with better technology for blending, bottling and delivery.
You could play Russian roulette only to open a bottle that has not developed, or keep one too long only to find out it has turned to vinegar. If you’re not a wine expert yourself, the first place to start when in doubt is the vintner. A simple call might garner you the expert opinion of the person who made the wine or at least a vineyard employee who can give you the basic run-down on their vintages.
You might also consider joining a wine club. You may think you don’t want constant shipments from the same winery, but people do tend to stick with brands they know. Tasting multiple vintages and grape varietals from the same winery has the added benefit of improving your palette over the years. Being a part of a wine club can deliver insider information and provide an expert on your side when you have an especially difficult question. With the relationship established you should feel free to ask them about a different bottle you have cellared even if it is not from their winery. Your continued business is reason enough for them to provide their expertise.
If you are not dealing with wines you can purchase at your local drug store, the general rule is high-end brands should max out in flavor at the 10 to 15-year mark. By this time the tannins have had time to develop, but there is still some freshness and fruitiness from the vine. Wines at this age tend to develop interesting complexities that make wine tasting the delight it truly is.
You may get the rare opportunity to taste a truly old vintage from the 1960s, or 1970s, but you may find you like your more modern, youthful wines better. So, take a look at your stock and open those 10-year old big red Italian bottles and live a little! Just be sure to invite some friends first because all wines taste better with friends.
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