Wine Doesn’t Really Get Better with Age

By Kori ~ January 27th, 2010.

Wine doesn’t really get better with age. Some wines just become more approachable to enjoy with age.

“I believe wine improves with age, because the older I get, the better I like it.” –Unknown

Dusty, old wine bottlesActually, as a wine moves from youth to maturity, it simply undergoes changes just as you and I did growing up. Maturity doesn’t necessarily make us better people, but it sure does make us different people. The same thing goes for wine.

As a red wine matures, the harsh tannins of youth become softer and more palatable. On the other hand, the luscious fruit of youth declines, slowly being replaced with a more complex bouquet.

Somewhere along that journey, the wine may hit a “dead” zone where either the fruit has faded too fast or the bouquet has been slow in developing. A wine going through this puberty phase is often referred to as “closed.” If you happen to open a bottle when it is “closed,” you may not be impressed at all, but six months later, the same wine may taste better than ever.

Just as with children, some wines are earlier maturing than others. However, also as with children, simply knowing one wine is early maturing and another is late maturing does not tell you anything about the ultimate quality of either.

In the end, it really comes down to personal preference. If you like your wines to be bigger, bolder, and more luscious, then you probably prefer young wines. But if you like your wines to be softer, smoother, and more aromatic, you probably prefer wines with some age.

Do you generally prefer young wines or wines with some age?

Filed under: General Wine Information

Reader's Comments

  1. Evan Dawson | January 27th, 2010 at 7:47 am

    I address the issue of age in a post published today on the New York Cork Report about a very special old bottle. To me, wine is a story that unfolds over time. I don’t mind when a bottle is “past peak,” because I very much enjoy the secondary and tertiary characteristics that come forward. Certainly not everyone does.

    But I think the title is misleading. Some wines do nothing but hang on, age gracefully without improving. Other wines absolutely improve with age. That’s more uncommon, but it happens, and it’s glorious when it does!

  2. Kori | January 27th, 2010 at 8:41 am

    I enjoyed your post. Great story! You make a great point about a wine’s story unfolding over time. I completely agree. But I still stick by my title because I don’t think wines really get better with age, they just mature and change. As was the case with your 1966 Dr. Frank Riesling, the story got better with age, but the wine itself didn’t necessarily get better, it just changed. It all comes down to personal preference. While you or I might think that a wine has improved with age, someone else might think it’s past its prime and would have preferred to drink it in its youth. Cheers!

  3. Evan Dawson | January 27th, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Kori – All good points. I would point out that the ’66 that I tasted was not in the category of wines that improve with bottle age (though I shudder to think of how sharp and shrill it must have been in its youth!) I think of some elegant Barolos or Brunellos as candidates to improve with age, as would many fans of Bordeaux. As you say, it comes down to preference, and most prefer to enjoy wine at a young, vibrant state. It’s also why many wine critics employ shorter drinking windows (“drink now”) – because they realize that their readers largely prefer a wine’s youthful character.

  4. Kori | January 27th, 2010 at 9:20 am

    True, true. Excellent point about shorter “drink now” windows. We do live in an instant gratification society, don’t we? Cheers!

  5. Sean P. Sullivan | January 27th, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Kori, another good thing to note about aging wine – as I know you know- is that it doesn’t make bad wine better. I had a friend who sat on a bottle of $10 wine for ten years expecting something miraculous to happen. It did. The bad bottle got even worse!

    I love watching wine age. Two of my favorites which I have had many bottles of are the 2002 and 2003 Saviah Cellars Une Vallee. I loved both these wines on their release and have enjoyed watching them mature. Interestingly, the last couple of times I had the 2002 over the last year it seemed to be fading. However, on the last bottle it had come out of an awkward, in between phase and was back to showing brilliantly. Fascinating to watch.

  6. Chris | January 27th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I’m pretty new to this topic but I lean toward more fruit forward, younger wines. I like them in the sweet spot of 4-8 years for most red varietals. For whites, I want them within the first 2-3 years of vintage.

    I’ve recently opened a 2000 Cab, that I suspect HAD to be better (for my palate anyway) five years ago. I also opened a three year old Riesling to taste side by side with my not-yet-in-the-bottle homemade wine. Blind tasted the new wine blew the older wine away in our house.

    Five years from now my palate may have changed with my cellar. But the one thing I truly dislike is opening a bottle of expensive wine that is past it’s prime when I could have enjoyed it more if I’d opened it sooner.

  7. Kori | January 28th, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Good point about bad wine not getting better with age. Bad wine won’t become more approachable with time, it will just get worse and die. The best scenario is the one you describe with the Saviah Une Vallee, wines that are great at release and are still great as they mature.

    Thanks for sharing your preferences. You bring up an interesting topic about the danger of holding onto wines too long. Too often when people spend more than they usually would for a bottle of wine, they hold onto it for a special occasion. Oftentimes though, no occasion seems special enough so when they finally get around to opening the bottle, it is well past its prime. Definitely, a sad situation. It’s always better to err on the side of drinking a wine too early than too late.