Wine Talk

Snooth User: Craig Bilodeau

Drinking Windows for the 80% by Varietal

Posted by Craig Bilodeau, Oct 31, 2012.

Hello everyone,

I am in the process of putting together a "Carte du Vin" and I have run into a problem populating the "Drinking Window" field in the database.  Basically, many of the wines that I own are "drink me now" wines; wines that fall into the 80% that are meant by the producer to be consumed right away instead of being cellared for aging.  Is there a "rule of thumb" for an expected drinking window by varietal for these 80%-type wines?  I understand completely that each vintage from each producer will have a different drinking window depending on the level of tannins, acidity, and a couple of other factors.  But without any published drinking window data for the wines that I own, I am left to gross approximations since, in many cases, I own only one or two bottles of each of these "drink me now" wines and opening one of each to judge its aging potential for myself is not an option.  Combine that with the fact that I own about 100 of these types of wines, and one quickly comes to the realization that I need a way to prioritize these bottles for consumption.  Determining their drinking windows was what I came up with.  Any guidance that can be provided would be appreciated.  Thanks!!!!


Reply by outthere, Oct 31, 2012.

Even drink me now wines will go 3 years and 100 bottles over 3 years is not even a bottle a week. I would just drink what I want and not worry about it too much.

Reply by GregT, Oct 31, 2012.

Craig - the short answer is no. There's no way to come up with a rule of thumb.

But Outthere has a good point.

And as far as the 80% figure, take that with a grain of salt too - I see that kind of thing a lot but don't know what it comes from. I suppose it includes all the boxed and jug wine and you may not want to age that. But it doesn't mean the bottled wine you pick up in 750ml bottles won't last for a little while, even if it's a blend from many different regions. In fact, some of that might really surprise you because it's made cleanly. It may not develop, but it may last for a few years. And then there's stuff that will simply shock you.

So first you need to figure out what is a "drink now" wine and why it's called that. Usually it refers to a cheap and young wine. Why is the wine cheap? It may be because it was made with inexpensive grapes. But were they inexpensive because they're not first quality or because the winemaker has owned the vineyard for generations and it's in a relatively unsung region, or because the producer can take advantage of volume discounts? Take a wine from Washington - Chateau St. Michelle. My wife opened a bottle of the 1995 Merlot a few days ago. It's a fine wine, a bit past peak but still drinking well. Or Columbia Crest Estate Reserve from 1987 that I had 2 years ago and that blew away a few highly regarded Bordeaux bottles. That one had actually developed into something too.

You can get the same results with many whites although people don't try. An inexpensive Muscadet that runs maybe $11 can surprise you with a drinking window of 10 years or better. I have some $6.97 Cab Franc from a co-op that seems to peak at around seven years. I only know because I once accidentally aged some and now I intentionally do.

Remember also that there are three things that can happen. Best case, the wine can get better, as those I mentioned did, and that's the only reason to age wine - you want it to improve. 

Next case, the wine can hang on and never really go anywhere but at least it won't deteriorate. That's what impresses some people but it's silly - just buy the more recent vintage if you want it to stay young and fresh. But it's the category in which, knowing nothing about your wines, I'd probably place a lot of them. It's not a bad category - wines that have been in barrels for a little while and that have been stabilized and filtered can stay surprisingly fresh for a long time.

Worst case, the wine dies. That is what I'd expect from most young, unoaked inexpensive wine. Every region makes such things and some can be really nice, but they aren't going to last very long. I've had Muscat that I just loved and that six months later was dead. Same with a lot of rosado or things like Beaujolais Nouveau - and distinguish that from the Cru Beaujolais (Morgon, Moulin au Vent, Fleurie) which can age wonderfully and rival Burgundy in the complexity it develops.

And lastly, you suggest something that isn't quite right. Don't assume that you can come up with a drinking window by variety. That's the sort of thing you might read in some article written by somebody "demystifying" wine, but it's nonsense. Tempranillo for example, can be one of the longest-aging red grapes that can develop great complexity over time. It can also be made into a young wine, often refered to as "Joven", that won't last 2 years. Gamay is often referred to as a variety you don't age. But as I mentioned, the Cru Beaujolais can develop astounding complexity in 15 years.

In the US, people market wines by variety, so we're trained to think that way, but it's wrong. You rarely see Cabernet Sauvignon w/out oak and you think it's an "aging" grape, but it has nothing to do with the grape and everything to do with the vinification. If you've had it unoaked and young, it's the same as that Gamay - drink it this year.

Grenache isn't often considered an aging grape and no matter how it's made, I like it young. But it can age. The problem is, with age, in my experience, it doesn't develop additional complexity. So the people who age Chateauneuf du Pape that's based on Grenache do it for some reason I can't really fathom. It's good young, tastes the same old, and simply took up space in your cellar for no real reason.  But CdP is usually a blend of 3-4 grapes and sometimes many more, so what is the variety that limits the aging? You can't answer that because the sum of the parts is very different from the individuals.

I'm sure this answer didn't help you at all, but it's the best I can do!


Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Oct 31, 2012.

Thanks, Greg.  I suspected that the "answer" would not be so easily obtained, but I thought I would throw it out there and see what happened.  Regardless, sounds like I need to drink those bottles of Gamay I've got...  :0

Reply by zufrieden, Nov 10, 2012.

I really cannot improve on that last bit of prolix descriptive. It was prolix but not a word was wasted; nice work Greg.

As a coda to this piece of work (Greg, you really should collate this stuff for publication), I would recommend looking at the provenance of the wine, the winemaker, and the direction of the market.  The latter point is rather crucial since gems are often found in rubbish heaps.

I also repeat the injunction to judge more from style than from grape variety.  For example, I would probably not age a Cotes du Rhone Blanc (even with a dominant hit of Rousanne or Marsanne) because that wine is purposefully made to be drunk within 1-2 years of bottling.  But I would preserve a Tahbilk Marsanne (Victoria State, Australia) for up to 15 years.  Such white varieties are used to make wine in a variety of styles for a variety of customers.

So look more at the producer for clues of whether aging is needed.  And be suspicious when the producer responds to your comments of angularity, acerbity, lack of balance and sundry with the remark that the wine needs time. That is the time to question the winemaker on a whole host of issues...



Reply by GregT, Nov 11, 2012.

Thanks for the kind words Zuf but nobody would read what I wrote so nobody's going to publish it. Maybe if I wrote a million tasting notes . . .

Anyhow you said it more succinctly than I - look for style rather than variety. And regarding lack of balance - that's something that's a bit controversial but I agree with you. If a wine is out of balance young, it doesn't come into balance later.  Parker said something to that effect once and I think it's quite correct. What does happen is that sometimes the pieces are all there but they don't work together yet - in other words the tannins are harsh, the acidity piercing, the wood dominating, and in really young wines, sulfur obvious.  But with a while, which may vary from a few months to a few years, everything starts working together better.  That can be true even for whites that never saw a barrel. 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 12, 2012.

"and distinguish that from the Cru Beaujolais (Morgon, Moulin au Vent, Fleurie) which can age wonderfully and rival Burgundy in the complexity it develops."

Rival Burgundy?  Well, technically Beaujolais is in Burgundy, just not the Cote d'Or part of it. But you mean it can rival the Pinot Noir wines of Burgundy, right, GregT?  But you don't like Pinot Noir, if I recall.  So I guess you are saying it's almost as bad? ;-)

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