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Wine Advice that Nobody Asked For: Aging Wines for Special Occasions

Recently, I received an email from someone asking about aging wine to commemorate the birth of his daughter. I’ve gotten this question a number of times over the years, and have helped a few people amass a small, or sometimes large, collection of wine to drink as their kids get old enough to enjoy wine with them. In fact, I have a small pile of wine at home right now from both my daughter’s birth year and the year I got married. It got me thinking that other people might be interested in aging wine for a special event, so here are some tips in the event that you want to give it a shot.

Identify your time frame. Are you buying to age for a few years, fifth wedding anniversary, end of a grad school program, 50th birthday, etc. How long do you want to age your wine for?

How much wine do you want to age? Do you want to buy two cases of one wine and drink a bottle a year for twenty-four years, or do you want to age four, six, eight, or 12 bottle lots of different wines to be opened at a set date? The former is more illustrative of how a particular wine will age, the latter gives you more opportunities to see how styles develop over time.

Qualities that help wine age include acid, sugar, alcohol, and tannin. There’s a reason vintage Port ages for decades. Vinho Verde for your twentieth wedding anniversary? $12 Pinot Grigio to share with your wee darling bambino when he turns 21? Not so much.

Sturdy reds with fair acid or tannin are good contenders for the 10 to 20-year mark: Bordeaux, or varietal bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Italian reds like Chianti (Riserva and Gran Selezione especially), Barolo, Brunello, or Amarone will get you there. Spanish reds made of Tempranillo will age for decades: Ribera del Duero and Rioja are excellent choices. The advantage to the Spanish reds, Brunello, and Gran Selezione Chianti wines is that they’ll often be aged at the winery in basically perfect conditions for at least half a decade before release. This means if you’re broke from just having a baby or a wedding, you don’t have to worry about buying wine for about five years.

Reds are nice, but I may have even more confidence in high-acid white wines like Riesling or Chenin Blanc, if they have a bit of residual sugar like a Kabinett, Spatlese, or Auslese Riesling from the Mosel in Germany they can really hang. Dry whites from Savennieres or Jurancon can age for a surprisingly long time and dessert wines like Sauternes can go for decades.

Large format bottles age slower than 750mls, feel free to splurge on a magnum or 3 liter.

Madeira lasts forever.

None of this matters though if you don’t pay attention to HOW you’re storing your wines. If you’re aging anything under screw cap (yes, this is a thing) orientation of the bottle doesn’t matter, but if your wine has a cork, lay those wines on their side. Wine likes stable, cool temperatures.

Wine hates heat, light, and vibration. If you hit that big Mega Millions and money is no longer an object, go ahead and build an insulated temperature and humidity-controlled cellar, but if like the rest of us you can’t allocate thousands of dollars to build a cellar, the coolest and darkest part of your home would be the best bet.

Expect to put a little money towards this project, $20 to $50 is a fair range to start for 750ml bottles, if you’re going to age wine then you may as well do it right. Sure that magnum of grand cru Alsatian Riesling seems expensive now, but when you open it at a Thanksgiving in fifteen years you probably won’t even remember what you spent.

Aging wine can be very rewarding, sometimes surprising, occasionally a little disappointing, but always interesting.

If you decide that this is a project that you’d like to try out for yourself, feel free to stop by the store to chat about it or give me an email at [email protected]

-Joe Buchter, Import Wine Buyer

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