The End is Near
By John and Jennifer VerPlanck
Well, the world didn’t end, but the predictions sure made news. ”The end of the world is nearing” was the latest in a string of apocalyptic end of the world warnings. If you’ve been cellaring some good wine, this may be as good an opportunity to break into those bottles that are ready to drink! Why not? Unless you’re in the business of buying and selling vintage wine, your cellar (if you have one) should be for storage and ageing your own wine for your enjoyment, right? It’s a sad fact that way too many great wines languish in somebody’s private cellar till they are past their prime.
There are other reasons to drink your good stuff now: your kids could raid your wines when you are away on vacation, you get a divorce and all the best beauties disappear in the night, you might go to prison (where I hear the wine is made in the toilets), you might get hit on the head and lose your sense of smell and taste, or you might unexpectedly die. It happens. The writer Nora Ephron said, “what if I leave a café without that doughnut I wanted only to be hit by a bus, my last thoughts would be, I should’ve had that doughnut”…
Do you read the labels on the back of your wine bottle? Look for the winemaker’s recommendation for the potential age- worthiness of the wine. Since the vast majority of wines produced are for immediate consumption, many labels will not include any ageing information. Some wines are meant to develop over time, improve and come into their own with patience and proper storage. Proper storage is usually considered to be a steady 55°, away from light and vibrations, enough humidity and laying the bottles on their side to keep the cork wet enough to not shrink.
Some wines will fade pretty fast and some will just never improve with age. Basic wines are generally good for 2 to 4 years. Most white wines will not improve if you cellar them. The better German Rieslings are the exception; they will improve with cellaring, most are at their limit by 20 years but some can still be great at 100 years!
Many whites need to be consumed within a year or two at the most, like sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and albarino. Chardonnay that has been aged in oak has qualities that make it one of the most ageworthy white wines in the world. Vintage Champagnes reach maturity about 10 years after the harvest and can keep well for at least another 15 years.
Some reds will not age well, such as Beaujolais, pinot noir and grenache. Bordeaux is known for its long living red wines made primarily from cabernet sauvignon and merlot, due to the high levels of tannin and dense fruit.
It should be noted that in most cases that an extremely alcoholic red will not improve and become balanced over time. Alcohol strength and acid does not lessen over time in the bottle. The fruit concentration, tannins, acid and sugar will evolve and meld together, but they need to be in proper proportions to get better over time. Unfortunately, a bad wine will not improve just because you put it away for some time, it will just be older bad wine.
Port wine and Sauterne are meant to age and the high amount of alcohol is balanced with intense fruit, sugar and lively acidity so that it is lovely to enjoy when the flavors coalesce over time.
Wine is made to be enjoyed, not hoarded for some day that may never come. If the end of the world is near, what better way to spend our time on earth than to enjoy sharing the good stuff with friends?
Photo credits: Pixabay, Public Domain, Wiki Commons