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Wine 101 - Instructions not Included

What could be simpler than drinking wine?

Today, I'm sharing my thoughts about one of the conversations I recently had with visitors to the Clore Center. When I pour wine for visitors, I will mention if I feel a wine is ready to drink now (Drink Me), should taste better if decanted or would benefit from more time in the bottle (Hold Me). Of course, last week one of my customers asked, "How do you know? There are no instructions included."
"Most wine is consumed almost immediately after purchase."

Most wine is consumed almost immediately after purchase. People buy and drink their wine. No problem with that. I too drink most of the wine I purchase. Though, I do favor decanting or aerating certain bottles of red wine. And yes, some bottles I don't drink. I do have special wines which I will hold to "maybe" open years after purchase. How do I know? And do you care?

Wine Changes Over Time

If you read this blog, then you know that I review wine over time. The reason for this should be obvious, I want my readers to understand how an open bottle of wine changes in aroma and flavor from opening, over the period of an hour and into the next day or three. This is one of the ways I judge if a wine is a "Drink Me" or a "Hold Me" wine. Some wines taste best at opening and others best on day three.

After drinking wine over 30 years, collecting wine over 15 years, working at a winery for two years, and pouring the same vintage over a year or more, I can verify that wine continues to change from year to year, month to month and sometimes week to week. There are periods when a wine is young and does not show well. And there can be times that wine, that vintage, that bottling, shows extremely well and delivers wonderful aromatics and flavors. And then, unexpectedly, it can shut down and not deliver. With time, it can come back even better. Wine is like that. You cannot predict when it will deliver the most flavor. You can make an educated guess based on experience.

Personal experience has shown me, repeatedly, that wine changes over time. Wine is a dynamic changing beverage of complex elements. It breathes and its chemistry is alive.

"...only a tiny percentage of the world's wines are built for longevity, and only some of those candidate wines in fact grow old gracefully."
What Really Makes Wine Age Well? by Tim Patterson, © Wines & Vines

Not All Wine Improves With Age

True. Most wines are best at purchase and were made to consume early. Most white wines you purchase at the grocer are meant to be consumed within the first year they are released. Many red wines made in the New World style, are best when consumed within three years of release. Some of these red wines do not improve much with age. There are always exceptions. If in doubt, ask the winery or a wine geek.

Sadly, I have read rants from individuals who collected wine, a lot of wine, which was meant to be consumed at purchase or near purchase. A ten year collection of this type of wine did not age well. And they let everyone, including the winery, know how upset they were. Unfortunately, this individual will likely never buy wine from this winery again. Too bad, because I know for a fact that the winery in question makes other wines which do age gracefully. And deliver a great deal of pleasure. You must know your wines before you begin collecting.

CSM Dry Riesling.

Does price affect taste? Yes

I'll be direct here. If you pay less than $10 for a bottle of white wine, then drink it. Do not cellar it. If you pay less than $10 for a bottle of red wine, then same. Drink it. Do not hold it. That is the reason they cost less than $10 per bottle. They are made in a style where they taste best when they are young.

White Wine Less Than $10: When you purchase these inexpensive white wines, they should have a vintage date from the previous year. White wines in this category are “Drink Me” wines. I have several favorite white wines in this price range I enjoy drinking.

*Note: If you buy white wine in this price category and they are from older vintages, you run the risk that they may have lost some flavor and freshness. They may be “tired.”

Red Wine Less Than $10: Inexpensive red wines may have a vintage date from last year, or the year before. You may even find some inexpensive red wines with vintage dates from three years ago. Do not be surprised if these wines do not hold up well over time. Honestly, I seldom drink red wine in this category. I'm far more selective about the red wine I drink and will pay more for what I like.
Wine tasting at Mercer Estates in Prosser, Washington.

Bang for the Buck

When you move to the next price range of $11 - $20, selecting a good white wine to drink is much easier. Quality is generally better. And many of the red wines at these prices actually improve with a little time in bottle. If you look at my “Wine Under $20” page, you will see a respectable list of wines I recommend priced between $11 and $20. It is a diverse selection of white and red wines. Good values from producers I respect. This is the "Bang for the Buck" range.

If you are paying more than $20 per bottle of wine, I hope you are doing your homework and researching whether they are “Drink Me” or “Hold Me” wines. Especially if you intend on cellaring these wines for years. I don't purchase at this price point on a whim. Typically, I purchase more expensive wines direct from the winery after tasting at the winery. Much easier for me to do since I live in wine country. Another suggestion is to join a wine club that can ship to you.

*Note: If you live in a city, find a local wine shop which holds wine tastings. I strongly recommend tasting wine before buying wine. Especially if it is expensive. Build a relationship with a wine shop owner and you will be rewarded with new wine experiences and friendships.

Limited release Col Solare 2009 Syrah.
Know the Producer

When you pay $50 or more for a bottle of wine, there is an assumption that the wine is worthy to be held onto and should be placed in a wine cellar or wine fridge. When in doubt, ask the winery. Or consult a trusted wine geek. I have had some very enjoyable wine experiences with wines I've held onto for 9 or 10 years. Last year I opened a special 2009 Syrah which had definitely hit its sweet spot. I enjoyed it on Fathers day and was so very happy I held onto it for an extra couple of years. I was also glad I spoke to a wine geek who knew that vintage and advised me to "Hold" and not drink at purchase. When in doubt ask. If you repeatedly purchase from the same winery, you will develop a feel for how well their wines age. Experience.


Wine is Meant for Drinking

“A lot of good wine has been ruined in the cellar.”

Another true aphorism is that, people forget to drink their wine. Hard to believe, but some people become so enamored of collecting and storing wine, they forget to check on it and open a bottle see if it is any good. When you have hundreds of bottles of wine, it is easy to forget what you have. And years later when you remember, it may be tired and lifeless. A lot of good wine has been ruined in the cellar. Not my problem.



My advice is to drink what you buy. See, instructions not needed. However, if you want to understand a vintage from your favorite winery, that is, you want to know how the wine develops in bottle over time, do this:
Buy a case of your favorite wine, then open a bottle every six months and see how it smells and tastes. Keep notes. Every six months you get to open another bottle and drink it. How has it changed? Is it better? Do you think it will get better? A case of wine consumed this way will last you six years. You will then have a six year experience with that vintage from that winery. You will be rewarded with a good understanding of that particular wine. Of course, if you open a bottle one year before the six years is up, and that bottle tastes amazing...drink it. Drink it all! Have a party. Invite some friends over and enjoy pulling corks on the remaining bottles. You just found the sweet spot for that vintage. Enjoy.

If you do want to "Hold" some wine to drink later. Get a decent wine fridge or build a wine cellar. The ideal wine storage temperature is between 50 and 59 °F. If you store between temperatures of 59 and 68 °F, make certain the temperature does not fluctuate too dramatically, which can cause the wine to expand and contract rapidly risking letting in air. Protect those bottles.

*Note: Never, ever, store your prized bottles of wine in the kitchen. Wine dislikes heat and light. A dark closet is a better option than the kitchen.


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