What is better, an old wine or a young wine?
The truth is, there is no RIGHT answer to this question. For starters, some wines are made to be aged (some French Bordeaux) while others are meant to be drunk young (fresh, crisp whites such as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc). Furthermore, even red wines that CAN be aged, don’t necessarily HAVE to be. Some people prefer a young wine, while others may prefer an aged wine.
While Bordeaux sits atop the throne of wine (alongside its more elegant Queen – Burgundy) what troubles me about many of the top Bordeaux is its need to be aged before it is even approachable. Some young Bordeux (a red wine blend generally containing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and up to 3 other “Bordeaux varietals”) can be so acidic & tannic that one really needs to wait as many as 10 years or more before it softens enough to be palatable. Good Bordeaux may then be soft, luscious and complex for many years before beginning its inevitable decline. At which point the wine will be devoid of fruit flavors and will likely smell/taste more like dried/stewed fruit, leather, earth, etc. So while I would not recommend drinking a wine such as this at a young age, it really all comes down to preference. A wine I am not too familiar with but that I understand also requires many years of aging before “coming into its own” is Cote Rotie. Like many a Chatanuef du Pape, the best of Cote Rotie are very pricey yet amazingly have cult followings and need many years of cellaring before it is truly approachable and at its best.
On the other hand, Cabernet based wines (AKA Bordeaux blends) from all over the world are more about preference. Wines such as these made in warmer climates often allow the fruit of the wine to shine through at a younger age making them approachable upon release. BUT, these wines often lack the acidity/structure to age for very long periods. Whereas a good Bordeaux can age for 30, 40, 50 years and more, Pushing your California Cab past 20 years or Australian Shiraz past 10 might be a bit of a gamble.
That said, many Bordeaux, Napa Cabs or other Cab/Merlot/Syrah (AKA Shiraz) wines are made in a more simple style and as such are NOT meant to be aged, rather they are intended to be drunk young. And trying to age such a wine will likely result in a dead wine by the time you open it.
As far as Pinot Noir is concerned, I gather that many of the best Burgundy (French wines made from Pinot) CAN be aged for many years, but doesn’t have to be. California Pinot on the other hand is generally made in a fruit forward style that I gather is made to be drunk young. Personally though (and personal preference is everything) I find the forward fruit style to be a bit much and have some California Pinots that I am aging, hoping that the fruit will become more subtle with 2-4 years of age.
As to white wines, beginning with Chardonnay or other whites fermented and aged in oak barrels, these are much the same story as Cabernet. The best of these can age for many years and gain complexity & balance as they age. But when made well they can also be appreciated young. Up to your personal preference.
Whites that are NOT aged/fermented in oak and are made in a more crisp/fresh style should NOT be aged. These wines will lose their fresh fruitiness and their crispness and will just taste dull after only 3-4 years (and in as few as 2 years). Drink these wines UP and check the vintage date before buying such wine as you want to make sure you are getting one that is young.
This discussion can go on and include things such as Italian Barrolo’s (should be aged), French dessert wines (Sauternes) said to be able to be aged for 100 years, or wines from wine producing regions without a lot of history to determine how long the wines can actually age. But I had initially intended this post to be more about PREFERENCE. Since the best wine is a wine YOU LIKE, to heck with what SHOULD be done. I have recently been finding that aside from age-worthy Bordeaux (which I sadly do not get to drink too often), I tend to prefer wines that have a little age, but are not pushed to their brink (speaking about red wines here). Wines 3-6 years following their vintage have often had time in barrel, more time in the winery (in bottle) and a few years of cellaring. This time has allowed the wine to mature a bit but also to soften. Yet I like wines around this time as they still have their fruit. As interesting as a leathery, tobacco & earthy wine is, I like to see a little fruit in my wines. NO, not the big fruit bombs, but the ones that have both subtle fruit flavors, a velvety soft mouth feel, and other complex aromas and flavors mixed in.
I hope I helped to clarify (and not further confuse) some of the issues surrounding which wines to age and whether or not YOU should be aging your wines. But if you were to take one lesson from this it would be a familiar one – drink what YOU like. Should you have any specific questions please feel FREE to contact me using the contact form on the right side of the page and I will do my best to discuss your personal questions with you privately.
Happy young, old and everything in between wine tasting!