You may have the impression that “real” wine aficionados drink wines that are at least 30 years old and cost more than your last paycheck. So does this mean you can keep your bottle of Cabernet in the basement for a couple of decades and then sell it at auction for thousands? Not exactly. What’s more, you no longer need to age most wines to enjoy them at their peak.
Aged wine has been romanticized as the pinnacle of luxury for decades, but most wines in today’s market aren’t crafted to be aged for more than five years. In fact, the majority are meant to be enjoyed immediately. Up until the 1990s, winemakers harvested their grapes all at once, resulting in clusters that varied in ripeness from vine to vine. When fermented, these inconsistencies in fruit flavor and sugar sometimes resulted in harsher tannins and a generally underdeveloped flavor. Aging helped to soften those tannins over time and improve the wine’s quality, resulting in a smoother, more enjoyable drink.
Recently, however, wineries have embraced “green harvests” -- a month or two before picking for the crush, any unripe grape clusters are removed from the vine. This results in uniformly ripe grapes being used in each wine, for a more consistent juice and softer tannins. As Wine Spectator recently noted, “Today’s wines are far more drinkable, far more gratifying, far more rewarding when drunk younger than their counterparts of 20 years ago.”
Of course, aged wines are still a commodity, and if you’ve always dreamed about a cellar of decades-old bottles, you should by all means build your collection. Just keep in mind that aging wine is not as easy as sticking your bottles in the basement and forgetting about them. Cellaring requires strict control over temperature, humidity and record keeping to ensure that wines are consumed at their optimum age.
But frankly, all that work is just not necessary anymore. And we think these viticultural advances are worth celebrating -- over a glass of young-vintage wine. Salud!