The majority of wine purchased in the U.S. is opened and consumed within a few days. At the same time, there’s a traditional narrative that the very best bottles typically need long cellaring to achieve their full potential. Wines from Bordeaux, Barolo, the Rhône Valley and Napa that fetch top scores and prices are also deemed too big and bold to drink right away; a wait time is pronounced mandatory for them to mature and mellow into their best forms. But expectations are changing about the relationship between quality and age.
There’s a growing demand for wines at all price points that are brighter, lighter and at their best young—and not just because consumers are impatient.
“People want wines that are ready to drink right away,” says Max Gottesfeld, a retail wine specialist for Fine Wine & Good Spirits in downtown Philadelphia. In part driven by interest in natural wines and glou glou, or easy-drinking, chillable red wines like the carbonic-macerated reds of Beaujolais and the Loire Valley, he says that customers rarely ask about the aging potential of wines anymore.
Old Regions, New Tricks
Many consumers now crave a different experience, and winemakers around the world have taken notice. Even in regions famous for serious wines—such as Bordeaux, Napa or Tuscany—some producers have shifted away from overly extracted and high-alcohol bottlings, focusing on lighter wines that spend little or no time in barrel. Energetic and juicy, these are ready to go with a true expression of fruit. Vanessa Rea, wine director at the Eastern Standard in Boston, says Hobo Wine Co. 2018 Camp Cabernet Sauvignon falls into this category, and Gottesfeld likes Ampeleia 2018 Unlitro Rosso Toscana.
“Most regions now have producers that are…making super fresh and lighter-than-usual reds that have not always been appreciated,” says Josiah Baldivino, sommelier and owner of wine shop Bay Grape and Italian restaurant Mama in Oakland, California. He’s excited about the vibrant Mountain Tides Wine Co. Carbonic Petite Sirah from California; a fresh bottling of Ulacia Estate Rosé from Getariako Txakolina; and Le Sot de l’Ange 2018 Malolactix Rouge from France.
These brighter, fresher styles of current vintage wines pair well with the veggie-centric food movement that’s similarly on the rise.
“Perhaps the trend [of young wines] is a natural outgrowth of the glou-glou trend,” says Michael Warner, co-founder/CEO of DCanter, a wine boutique in Washington, D.C. “But there is also a lot of appeal in easy-drinking wines that don’t necessitate a hearty food pairing.” One of his most popular bottles is a Giunta Malbec Nouveau from New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay that, according to Warner, “is a lot of fun and has quickly gained a small following.”
Beyond Gamay and Cabernet Franc, seek out younger wines made from grapes like Mondeuse, Mission, Cinsault or Schiava (also known as Trollinger or Vernatsch). You can also look to regions like California’s North Coast. There, Rea says you can find “a smattering of more youthful producers looking for balance.”
Still, nothing will likely rival the allure of some aged wines. “There are definitely certain wines that blossom to this unfakeable state of amazingness if you just store the bottle properly for a couple of years,” says Baldivino.
But that doesn’t mean bottles can’t be just as delicious when they’re younger and livelier. There’s no need for ageism in the wine world. There’s room enough for all to exist.