Can a Wine Truly Be Great if it Can’t Age?

High-quality Old World wines are renowned for their ability to withstand decades of aging. But if a wine is best young, does that immediately make it inferior?
Photo by Tom Arena

A bottling’s ability to stand the test of time has long been considered a mark of quality, but that might not be the case for every wine or even every region.

We’ve never had to question the ageability of wines from Old World regions like France and Italy—we already know the answer. Wineries throughout these countries date back generations, and top vintages of, say, Bordeaux or Barolo can last for decades; we have the pleasure and ability to taste such older bottlings as proof of their prowess. Can New World wines age the same way? More importantly, should they even be held to the same standard?

Given the relative youth of many New World producers, the question of ageability can be difficult to answer. Additionally, some of these wines come from warmer climates and are structurally different, with a riper fruit profile and perhaps lower acidity and higher alcohol. While these attributes can make the wines seem more accessible and charming in their youth, they might also impact their longevity. Does this mean that they are lesser wines? Or are they just different?

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I’ve sampled numerous Washington wines from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. In most cases, they have showed remarkably well. There’s no doubt in my mind that, from the right producers and vintages, wines from Washington and other New World regions can possess that magic balance of fruit and structure that will allow them to age gracefully for decades. But I’m less convinced that it matters in order for them to be considered “great.”

We like to compare New World pours against the Old World pillars because, quite frankly, they have been the measuring stick. And yes, there’s something to be said for a wine that can mature for decades. But isn’t there also a place for those that are outrageously delicious for, say, five, 10 or 15 years, and then fade?

To me, great wines and wine regions present something different, something that isn’t quite replicated anywhere else. It could be an aroma, flavor, concentration or texture. It could be a variety or style. It could be the wine’s structure, and, yes, maybe even its longevity. Or, ultimately, some perfect combination of all of these things. That uniqueness is what makes a particular wine great.

Each world-class region brings something different to the table. Rather than get caught up in comparisons, why not simply embrace and celebrate the differences. After all, aren’t these differences part of what makes wine so fascinating and fun?

Published on February 7, 2018
Topics: Viewpoint
About the Author
Sean P. Sullivan
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Washington and Idaho

In addition to his work at Wine Enthusiast, Sean P. Sullivan is the founder of Washington Wine Report, a site dedicated to the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest that has twice been named ‘Best Single Subject Wine Blog’ by the Wine Blog Awards. Sullivan has authored over 100 print articles on Northwest wine. He resides in Seattle, Washington.

Email: ssullivan@wineenthusiast.net.




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