Myth buster: Not all wine gets better with age
This week, Winebuyers speak to Justin Howard-Sneyd, Master of Wine, on when to age wine and when to drink it. ‘Like a good wine, he got better as he got older’ Hands up who’s heard that one? Generally true? What do you reckon? Actually, sorry to break this to you, but this is very often NOT true. Only some wines get better with age, and they don’t just keep on getting better with age, they often reach a peak for a few years, and then begin a slow decline towards old age and death. Generally, collectible, blue-chip ‘investment-grade’ £100+ a bottle wines are the ones that are made to be aged for at least a decade or two, sometimes 4 or 5 decades, or even a century - and who can afford those?
Why age your wine?
Many sweet wines, and fortified wines if aged for the right amount of time, can turn into bottled poetry. There is some magic alchemy that happens when you combine great wine with just the right amount of time. Simple fruit flavours can transform inside the bottle into extraordinary, evocative explosions of flavour that provoke emotionally charged memories, and leave you wishing for more. But the vast majority of wines will be drunk within a week or two of them being purchased.
Use price as a guide
Most wines below £10, whites and reds, are made to taste delicious when drunk immediately, and shouldn’t be kept more than a year or two. Many £10 - £20 whites will be at their best best drunk within a year or two, and most of the reds won’t improve beyond 4-5 years old. If you are in the market for £20-£100 wines, it is worth knowing the wines that you should keep (some for 10-25 years) from the ones that ought to be drunk much younger. If you are spending this kind of money, it’s not a bad idea to equip yourself with some guidance. It may be worth doing a wine course, or investing in an app or a wine book that will give you some tips.
The 'drinking window'
One of the saddest things in the (wine) world is seeing a bottle of wine that used to be delicious, but has been kept well beyond the point of enjoyment, so that it is now totally knackered. All of that love and care lavished by the winemaker – wasted. Years of eager anticipation of what this special bottle might bring – dashed when the cork is pulled. This is why we publish a ‘drinking window’ for all of our wines, just to help you know whether you should be hanging on to your bottles for a bit longer, or whether it is time to wield the corkscrew, and get stuck in. Every couple of years, we taste our older vintages, and update our recommendations. Guest Post Justin Howard-Sneyd MW.
What is a Master of Wine?
The Master of Wine is the highest possible qualification in the world of wine, with a famously low pass rate. There are only 370 Masters of Wine in the world.
About Justin Howard-Sneyd MW
Justin Howard-Sneyd is a Master of Wine and founding partner of Domaine of the Bee, with more than twenty years’ experience of wine buying, education, and winemaking in four different countries. Domaine of the Bee is Justin's personal Roussillon project with his wife Amanda, and their friend Philippe. Based on four hectares of very (60-100 y.o.) Grenache and Carignan vines, they describe themselves as 'a tiny producer of enormous reds’. He spends as much time as he can in Roussillon to ensure their tiny production of Bee is the best it can be.