The Wine Cellar Myth
Wine enthusiasts agree that aging wine is the ne plus ultra of wine expertise.
But what if the whole enterprise was a folly, or worse, a marketing ploy to get consumers to invest in fancy wine accouterments and more? Maybe that’s too cynical a view. But here’s what we know: Most wines do not get better with time.
Only about five percent of wines improve with age, and only one percent taste better with more than five years of aging. So why do we need to hold on to special bottles instead of just enjoying them?
A History of Wine Aging
There was a time when aging wines were beneficial. Until the 1970s, most wines improved with some time in the bottle. It was tradition to lay down wines for several years, or even decades, to produce a balanced and complex wine. But if opened too soon, this type of wine was virtually unpalatable.
This ended once pioneering winemakers in Napa created a new wine style that was brimming with plump fruit and spices and tasted delicious from the first drop. The rest of the world quickly followed suit. That is not to say that aging wine is obsolete; it remains the tradition in several old-world wine regions.
Wines for Aging
Some producers in the world still aging wines in-house. For example, in Italy and Spain, the word “reserva” or “riserva” denotes a wine that has been aged according to the winery’s cellaring program.
Certain regions are also known for the ageability of their wines, such as Barolo or the Left Bank of Bordeaux. White wines from Sauternes and the Rheingau in Germany likewise gain elegance and complexity over time.
If you’re unsure whether a wine is meant to age, the producer’s tech sheet is the best source. The winemaker must have created it specifically to peak at some point in the future. Without the winemaker’s imprimatur, opinions by sommeliers or other wine experts are pure speculation.
Wine Aging on a Budget
Assuming that your wine is intended to age, there’s no need to invest in an extravagant wine cellar. Here are a few simple tips to get you started:
- Use a cool area with little light and minimal temperature fluctuations.
- Avoid highly trafficked spaces or where the wine is likely to be moved or disturbed.
- Place corked bottles on horizontal shelving units.
- Catalog your collection and create an alert for when a wine is at its peak.
For most people, an unused closet or basement area is ideal. The more practical, the better: those fancy wine cellars with poker tables and humidors are terrible for wine. Kitchens can also wreak havoc on delicate bottlings, so make sure to use a wine fridge if you enjoy your collection.
Are you looking to build a wine cellar? We have you covered.
Aging Wine Meaning
Before we go further, we should take a moment to define what we mean by aging wine. Aging wine is to hold wine in a bottle for more than three years.
Tasting Old Wine
The biggest drawback to aging wine in bottle is how easy it is to miss the perfect window for drinking. Far too often, people hold on to wines through the years, only to find a dank specter of its former glory awaiting them in the bottle. If you think you may have waited too long to drink something, you probably have.
It’s also worth discussing the taste of aged wine. While we have experienced soulful, complex wines brimming with cigar box and chicory after many years of tender loving care, we’ve also tasted watery mushrooms and rotten beets. It can be a real throw of the dice when aging wine for extended periods. A 100-year aged wine is very likely to be nothing but vinegar (at best).
Thoughts on the Cellaring Wine
And doesn’t this all have more than a whiff of elitism? Aged wines are expensive wines. Given that there are only a select number of old wines on offer, with smaller and smaller subsets of people who could access or afford them, the whole endeavor becomes tied up in social status and class.
Everyone can agree on this: wine is meant to be enjoyed. So if aging wine sounds enjoyable to you, hopefully, you will find some great tips in this article. If, on the other hand, it makes you long for a drink, go ahead and open any one of the millions of bottles that taste delicious now. It’s the American way, after all.
Aging Wine Quotes
“Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it.”Anonymous
Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wineJoan Collins
Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.Pope John XXIII
What though youth gave love and roses, Age still leaves us friends and wine.Thomas Moore.
I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.Thomas Jefferson
The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness – the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined.F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I told my wife a man is like wine, he gets better with age. She locked me in the cellar.Rodney Dangerfield
Fine wine is a living liquid. Its life comprises youth, maturity, old age and death.Julia Child
I like to drink more wine than I used to. Anyway, I’m drinking more.Mario Puzo