Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Benefits of Short-Term Aging

Some joke that most Americans age their wine on the back seat of the car on the way home from the store. Talk about cellaring wine and people start to look anxious. They imagine that they'll no longer be interested in drinking a wine 5-7 years after they buy it. And if they don't have a wine fridge or a cellar, they wonder where they'd keep a bottle of wine for that long.

But what about short-term aging? I'm starting to become a real fan of storing most red wines for 1-3 years. This falls far short of what most people mean when they talk about "cellaring" wine, but it has advantages. It tends to soften a wine's edges; it tends to bring out nuances in the wine beyond just its fruit; and it gives the wine a lushness that isn't always there when it's young.

Here's my latest experience with short-term aging. Two years ago, on a nice August day in 2007, I visited the Navarro Winery tasting room and sipped some 2004 Navarro "Méthode à l'Ancienne" Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. Here's what my tasting note said: "Nuts, earth, and mushroomy/truffley notes accent this Pinot with its core of bright acidity and its cherry fruit. I think it will age very, very nicely." So I bought a bottle for just under $25 and tucked it away.

This is what I tasted almost two years to the day later: "This has been in the cellar for 2 years, and is drinking even better now. Bright fruit is still present (cherry, blackberry), with integrated earthy and mushroomy flavors, a nice lashing of minerality, and the acidity has moderated somewhat resulting in a rich, flavorful, yet bright drinking experience. Everything new world Pinot Noir is supposed to be, for around $25. Exceptional QPR."

If you want to try your own "short-term aging" experiment, Navarro is currently selling the 2006 vintage in their "Favorite Six" Sampler--six wines for $127.00 + shipping. You do the math, but I think that works out to around $21 a bottle, and there are other treats in there, like Navarro's Riesling and Gewürztraminer that you can drink while you wait for your Pinot Noir. Or you can just get the 2006 Pinot Noir for $29/bottle.

I can't promise your results will be exactly the same as mine, but next time you buy a wine you like, get yourself another bottle and put it aside for a few years. Then you can see for yourself whether you prefer your wine aged on the back seat--or left for a few years beyond.


Cabfrancophile said...

I'm trying similar experiments. CA wine generally seems to have no shortage of fruit, while the structure is usually accessible. I don't really see much point in aging wine beyond the point where the structure has reached approachability (though I realize for certain wines a decade or more is required). Too many things can go wrong the longer you wait, and I like my wine to have some primary fruit character. A few years for a good CA wine seems about right in my mind to let it integrate and bring the fruit into balance with everything else.

el jefe said...

Many wineries will offer wines from their library for sale, often only to wine club members at special events but it can be worth asking.

Another amazing source can be to cruise the aisles of the larger wine stores when you are traveling. I've often seen several-year-old wines from some well known makers sitting on a dusty shelf priced to move. Of course you are taking a risk on how it was handled, but chances are fair that it has at least been in that store since it was new ;)

decaturwinedude said...

It's hard to make generalizations about aging wines, I don't think just saying "good" wines age. It depends on several things, vintage, winemaker, terroir...
Arcadian and Williams Selyem make SVD Cali pinots that are peaking 8-10 years and beyond from vintage.
I totally agree with you on Navarro, too...lovely wines. My friend is one of thier members and he gets those "sampler" packs often. Their white wines are top notch!

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for these comments. CabFrancoPhile is absolutely right--if you like your wines fruity then you want to be careful how long you age them. Like el Jefe, I'm a big fan of the dusty bottles section of the store. I've rarely had a problem--except with whites. Decaturwinedude, have you had Navarro's Edelzwicker? Its very good.

decaturwineandfooddude said...

I have, it is excellent. This summer we have had multiples of Navarro's 2007 Gewurtz which is really a delicious bottle of wine. Can be bought for around $15 delviered with all the Navarro club discounts. Terrific winery.
The Pinot Grigio is good too.