Drinking Young Wine
After being in the wine business for roughly 10,000 years (ok not that long, but pretty damn long), you start to notice the same question always being asked.
“When should I drink this wine?”
Good question! (Especially if you spent the big bucks on it).
Answer? If it’s a $5.99 Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc, we suggest you drink it immediately. Otherwise....it depends.
There are a few things to consider when aging wine and/or drinking young wine. Read on and let’s determine if the wait is worth it OR if you should drink your wine(s) in question ASAP...
The basics: what does wine aging do?
In general, aging a wine results in softer, mellow flavors - usually for the better, but not always.
Have you ever drank a glass of wine and afterwards had a dry feeling in your mouth? That’s called wine tannin. Some wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo are known to be the most tannic or dry - some people love it, while others prefer a sweeter or softer pour. Aging your wine can tone the tannin down, but the catch is - the bigger the wine, the longer the time required to mellow it.
Aging wine will also mellow out fruit and help develop more complex flavors. This can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for in your wine. Sometimes a wine can be TOO fruity and can be mellowed and balanced out with age.
So, drinking a young wine will often be more intense on the palette. And hey, maybe you’re totally okay with that. We sure are!
Note: Acid and tannin are natural preservatives. The higher the acid and tannin, the longer it will age...but tannin and acid together can be very intense!
Aging White vs. Red Wine
Red wines are more conducive for drinking with a little or a lot of age. In general, heavy reds will benefit more from aging compared to lighter reds.
White wines can be aged for a while, but the majority of whites are for drinking now (or within the first few years of the vintage date). White wines are are usually light, bright and crisp...or, on the other side of the equation, oaky/ buttery in flavor for the heavier whites. Heavier white wines can age better, but we hate to miss the window and would rather drink them all on the younger side.
What Influences “Age-ability”?
What is this wine you speak of? Is it Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, white, red, pink? They all might have different answers. There are general rules of thumb and there are exceptions to the rule. Below is some more in-depth info to help you decide if your wine is worth aging.
Heavy Red or Light Red
We have found that light red wines drink better when young and heavy reds are better after a little age. Proof of this generality is in the barrel aging process. Heavy reds will typically spend more time in barrel than lighter reds. Drinking young, heavy, red wines can be very intense. Think of putting a spoonful of unsweetened Cocoa powder in your mouth- it’s dry (bitter), and crazy intense. In heavy red wines, that intensity mellows out over time. A high-end Cabernet Sauvignon can spend 1.5-3 years in barrels before bottled, another year, or more, in bottle before being released. All of this is to mature the wine, which is another way to say “tame the intensity”, while brining out the nuances. A similar process happens in the bottle, but much slower. Aging heavy reds in bottle is great, and can be worth it, but you will want to have tried the wine before or know about the producer and their style. It’s a big investment to hold an expensive wine. You don’t want it to suck when you finally get to it. Also, there are plenty of individuals who love big, bold chewy red wines… if this is the case for you, why wait? Or why wait 15 years? Pop it and let it breathe a little before you drink it.
Drinking wines that are lighter in body when young is a better bet than the heavier versions. We aren’t talking strictly lighter in color. Some light colored red wines are sneaky and will have a lot of tannin and /or acid. You find this out by doing a little research- which in our case is drinking a lot of wines- for science. Because the wines are lighter in body, they have less to mellow out by aging them. That is not to say they won’t benefit from some age, but they typically won’t age as long. Basically, they have less to mellow out in them, but sometimes age can round out things like acid with makes the wine more “pretty” over time.
Drinking wine young can make more sense in certain vintages (Year the grapes are grown). An example of this is 2011 in Napa/Sonoma Counties, in California. 2011 was a late ripening, very cool and slightly wet vintage- not the best for developing texture and structure in most wines. Pinots and Cabernet Sauvignons were much lighter from this vintage. Tannins in wine are a reaction to the environment, sun especially. You can think of it like getting a tan, of having dark skin in areas that are sunny. More sun, more tannin. Because temperatures and sun exposure were less than typical vintages, the grapes did not require as much protection. Less tannin in the grapes led to lighter wines that required less aging, or more tricks to bring out, or round out, structure. All around, these wines were more approachable early on, or even required drinking early so that they would not “fall off” before aging to the degree you would normally with these varieties. Here is a great article on tannin from the SF Gate.
Below is a graph from The Vintage Report that relates to the variance of rainfall from vintage to vintage. Rainfall, or lack thereof, will effect grapes in several ways- including berry size.
Every Vintage has its benefits and/or struggles. The 2020 Vintage was a rough one for many folks in CA due to the fires present during harvest. See below for a survey from The Vintage Report asking winemakers the biggest issues with the 2020 vintage. It’s always something!!!
Similar to vintage, location has a huge impact on how grapes ripen. We are in Sonoma County, California. Pinot Noir grapes are widely grown here due to the hospitable growing conditions. Even within this medium sized county there are countless Meso-climates (sub climates). Some are incredibly warm and some stay very cool. These different locations will produce different kinds of wine- styles and varieties. These wines will have different age-ability. Getting to know the producers in a region will give you even more info to the age-worthiness of a wine. If a winemaker is a masochist, he or she may choose higher amounts of extraction when fermenting. This will increase the length of time the wine can age.
It can be a little confusing to determine if you should drink a wine young, but there isn’t much lost (in our humble opinion) if you drink a wine young. It may just be a little too intense, but if it is, just let it sit on the counter, or in a decanter for a while- this will help mellow it out a little and open up some of those more complex flavors. There is not need to over think the process. If you have a couple bottles of a wine you love, drink it over a couple years and watch it change. One of our biggest fears in holding a wine is that we hold it too long. Drinking young wine is perfectly fine. Drinking over the hill wine is a shame.
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