Member Inquiry: When is Wine at its Best?

“Paul, In the newsletters it says things like, Will complex over the next two years.’ How can I tell when a wine will be at its best?

M.N., North Hollywood, CA

As many factors are involved, this is a complex issue (no pun in­tended). Unfortunately, the main factor, is experience, and that you must gain for yourself! I can only give you some guidance in the form of a few tasting tips.

The overall structure and bal­ance of a wine determine its poten­tial. The mainstays of structure and balance are the depth of flavor (“fruit”), sweetness, acidity, alco­hol and tannin content.

The vast majority of wines pro­duced have very little potential for “complexing”. Most wines are basically at their peak when they are released. They will stay about the same or decline with time

There are several “styles” of wine (e.g., full, dry white or light, fruity white; light, dry red or heavy, sweet red, etc.). In order for any given wine to taste good, the structural elements must be present in proper balance (accord­ing to what is appropriate for that style). A light, fruity Riesling, for instance, should have very little tannin, if any at all. Dosed with a lot of tannin, it would be a dismal failure of a wine. On the other hand, a rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon should contain plenty of tannin. Because of all this tan­nin, it might not taste very pleasant when it is young, but that would not make it a bad wine. It could eventually become an excellent tasting wine, as its tannins resolve with age. Possessing enough fruit and acidity to last until the tannins mellow, the wine might have the potential to end up as a superb ex­ample of its type. Lacking suffi­cient tannins, our Cabernet would “go over the hill” before ever reaching greatness.

Wines which will complex over time, deserve to be allowed to do so, and to be tracked as they progress. If a wine with potential appeals to you, the thing to do is put three, six, twelve or more bottles in your collection and drink one every six months or so. It does take a little discipline. If you taste a bottle and it hasn’t seemed to change much, wait one or two years before the next go. The fun is predicting when the wine will reach its peak. A twenty-one-year-old Bordeaux at its peak is a full-throttle revelation that simply must be experienced to be understood!

Once you have done this en­joyable exercise a few times and have seen how complexities build up as tannins diminish, you will have a basis for prognostication. This is probably the only way to acquire the ability to predict a given wine’s future.


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