Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Today’s installment: Is there a rule of thumb to deciphering which bottles to age?
Eastern Standard in Boston may be known for its cocktails, but thanks to wine director Colleen Hein, the New American eatery has upped its wine game. Hein organizes a list of Old World meets small-production domestic bottles. Below she talks about wines to age and wine to drink “fresh.” How do you know which to age and which to drink right away, for both red and white? From Hein:
“As vast is the world of wine, so are the rules to serving and drinking it properly. Knowing when to drink wine and specifically how to properly age wine is filled with patient anticipation and wonderfully fulfilling reward. Ultimately, to do the wines in your cellar justice, a quick study of major grape varieties, wine growing regions and how wine is made will bear the greatest fruit of reward and well-earned insight.
In the meantime, here are some general rules of thumb you can follow regarding both white and reds that are meant to be drunk sooner than later and those to be cellared that will become better with age.
Typically, light bodied white and red wines can be enjoyed earlier in their youth.
Wines that are fuller bodied with heartier structures will benefit from time in bottle. The structure of wine falls into two categories — tannin and acid. Regardless of which reigns, both have the ability to extend the longevity of a wine's life. Drink too young and either of these will be disjointed and dominate the palate. If drunk with proper age, they will integrate, support, and enhance the overall wine.
Look at the packaging — specifically the top — of the wine.
Is it closed with a natural cork or with a synthetic closure such as a plastic or the popular screw cap? If it’s one of the latter, this is a clue that you can pop (or twist) open a wine that is made to be drunk while "fresh" and in its youth. Natural corks still seal many bottles, but are particularly important in aiding the aging process of wine over time in the cellar.
Lastly, do some research.
Type the name of a bottle in question into your favorite search engine to help you swiftly gather clues from fellow wine enthusiasts, vintage charts and winemaker websites to reveal which to drink now and which to age.
Domaine des Ardoisières, ‘Argile’ Savoie is a blend of three white varietals from the cool, high altitude climate of the Savoie in the French Alps. The ‘Argile’ is vibrant, nervy, and wonderfully fresh in its youth, indicative of its Alpine terroir.
Big Table Farm’s pinot noir, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, is a great example of a young wine showing well now that will only get better with age. High-toned acidity and loaded with classic cherry fruit, this wine is punchy and crushable, though give it a few years and it may drink more like a refined red Burgundy.
Catherine & Pierre Breton ‘Les Perrières’ 1996 cabernet franc is another example: Coming from one of the most heralded vintages in all of French winemaking history, this softly structured, integrated, and yet highly aromatic expression of the earthy Cabernet Franc varietal was likely a brute in its youth. This is a perfect example of optimal vintage, place, and grape in a glass at long last ready to be drunk.”