Random thoughts on the world of wine, presented in no particular order.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ready to drink? Yep.

One of the questions I get a lot is "when is this wine ready to drink?"

The answer, of course, is always complicated.  Define "ready to drink," first of all!  I mean, once it's in the bottle, wine is ready to drink, in the sense that it's able to be poured into a glass, consumed, and won't do you undue harm (aside from intoxication, of course).

That being said, the assumption is that most wine needs to be aged for some length of time to be "ready to drink."  Completely incorrect, I contend.  I recall being told at a seminar once, "90% of all wine sold in the US is consumed within 4 hours of purchase.  95% within 4 days, and 98% within 4 weeks."

Admittedly, I'm not sure if it's 98% of all bottles sold, or just 98% of the money spent on wine, but either way, remarkably little wine is consumed after any aging at all.  As the joke goes, "everyone has a wine cellar -- it's called the back seat of the car, as they're driving home from the store."  It's unusual to age wine in the US; most people simply don't do it.

You don't think producers are aware of that fact?  You must be insane.  Of course producers know people don't age wine here!  Why in the world would you make a wine that "needs" to be aged, when only an insignificant portion of the wine sold is aged even as long as a couple weeks?

That being said, there are some -- very few -- wines that benefit from aging.  Generally, these are the big boys of the wine world; Bordeaux in a good year (by way of example, I've had a number of 2006's -- the last release for most producers -- that were ready to drink right out of the bottle, while the 2005's are still tightly wound and need time), Brunello, Barolo, vintage Port, and top-flight new-world wines come to mind.  That's really about it.  Exceptions exist, as they always will, but they're few and far between.

So relax.  It's OK to get a bottle of wine -- even a moderately pricey one, or indeed some very expensive stuff -- and pop it open that night.  Most people do, and most producers are smart enough to make wine that fits that market segment.

Does that mean that there's no need for a wine cellar?  Oh, indeed not; I've got one, as do most wine aficionados that I'm friends with.  The bulk of the wine in my cellar is Bordeaux -- 2005's and 2003's.  I've got a couple of Barolos in there, and some upper-end California wines (two Stag's Leap District cabs, and a Diamond Mountain cab) that I'm not intending on keeping for a long time, but want to keep at proper temperature for when I decide to pop them open.

That's it.  Everything else is stored out, for quick consumption.  Because that's what the winemakers intend us to do -- wine isn't an object to be stared at behind glass doors, it's an accompaniment to a fine meal, a good evening snuggled up with a loved one on the couch, or a celebration with friends.  It's meant to be consumed.

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