The Trouble with Cellaring Wine

Drinking a well-aged vintage is a great joy. But when you cellar away the perfect wine, does the right moment to open it ever really come?
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As a person who spends a disproportionate part of life thinking about, writing about and tasting wine, there are few things quite as thrilling as an aged wine that’s in its sweet spot.

For years, this has been my excuse to justify a worsening wine-hoarding situation, or so my partner would say.

This holiday season, with wine storage in my small Manhattan apartment in undeniable chaos, I’ve decided enough is enough. Rather than waiting for those perfect somedays, I’ll be popping some precious bottles with friends and family, because maybe there’s no better time to enjoy a wine than now.

As collectors, we squirrel away special wines in preparation for faraway hallelujah moments when a wine’s components all magically collide into perfect harmony.

Wine is one of a small handful of consumable goods that can improve with age. Deciding which will actually improve, however, is always a leap of faith.

As collectors, we squirrel away special wines in preparation for faraway hallelujah moments when a wine’s fruit, flora, earth and animal characteristics, as well as structural components like acidity, tannins and mouthfeel, all magically collide into perfect harmony.

While many wines do reward aging, saving too many bottles for an uncertain future can often backfire. For every one that I’ve coaxed to glory, I’ve transformed a handful of once-enchanting wines into tired old clunkers. I’m still heartbroken over the cases of expensive white Burgundy that have fallen victim to premature oxidation, a particular concern with Burgundy, while I fantasized about the decades to come.

Over the years, I’ve also acquired an impressive lineup of rare wines from my (not-to-be-named) birth year. To me, these wines are a time capsule with glimmers of the sun, rain and fruit that contributed to that vintage’s harvest. In honesty, however, having tasted just a few, the resulting wines are typically more earth, mushroom and dust rather than fruit or flower at this point.

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“An acquired taste, I suppose,” said one friend with whom I shared a precious sip.

Many a wine expert will espouse the necessity to mature certain wines in order to enjoy them. “Drinking Grand Cru Chablis before it’s 10 years old is infanticide,” they’ll say, or they’ll insist “Châteauneuf-du-Pape won’t show its true colors for at least 15 years.”

But it’s a fallacy that all wines get better with extended age. Furthermore, many wine lovers—and oftentimes, even winemakers in Chablis or Châteauneuf-du-Pape—will admit to preferring the taste of young wines with exuberant fruitiness and bold structure still intact.

While I certainly prefer the complexity and nuances of a fine, aged wine, I’m the first to admit that hoarding bottles excessively is a haphazard situation. At the end of the day, whether inexpensive or priceless, young or old, wine is just a drink. What could be better than enjoying it while in the presence of those you love?

Published on October 29, 2018
Topics: Wine Ratings
About the Author
Anna Lee C. Iijima
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Germany and the Rhône Valley

Anna Lee C. Iijima joined Wine Enthusiast in 2010. A former attorney turned beverage devotee, she holds a Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a student in the Masters of Wine Program. She is also an Advanced Sake Professional of the Sake Education Council with an enduring love for saké and shochu.

Email: aiijima@wineenthusiast.net




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