Mailbag: How long should I hang on to this bottle of wine?

Monday, March 30, 2009

A question came into the WWP recently that I thought would be worth sharing and offering up for discussion:

A serious question - How long can I really hang on to that bottle of [2006 Mollydooker] Blue Eyed Boy [Shiraz]? For the longest time I thought that the longer you hang on to a bottle the better it gets, but apparently there is a point of diminishing returns. What say you?

The quick answer is to drink a wine like this within the next year, especially if it's difficult to store the wine at a moderate and constant temperature.

A more involved discussion follows...

I really like this question because it shows careful consideration for a rather nice bottle of wine, and an interest in learning more about a rather complicated but fascinating aspect of wine appreciation.

I think of wine aging in two different scenarios or two different "levels" if you will. The first level is where we're just looking to let a wine get just a little bit of age on it, say a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon for a couple of years. The next level of aging is more hardcore. This is where we're laying down a bottle for 10 or more years- a red Bordeaux for example. Either way, the goal is similar: Tannins get a chance to soften, the wine becomes "rounder" and more integrated, and the fruit is given a chance to shine.

The first thing I would note here is that based on reading I've done, successful aging of any wine requires that you're able to provide a relatively stable low-temperature storage environment. This doesn't necessarily imply that you must have a wine cellar or a refrigerated wine cabinet. However, if you can't keep the temperature below say 70F year-round -or- you're unable to keep the temperature fluctuations within +/- 10F it is probably not a good idea to keep wine on hand for more than a year. The aging process will occur too quickly and the outcome would be unpredictable.

That said, some wines don't improve with age at all. Here's a handy reference from our friends at Wine Enthusiast with ballpark recommendations for ageability of common wines.

If you want to dial it in a bit more for a particular bottle, the first place I look is Wine Spectator's recommended drinking window. For each wine they review they also supply a recommendation for when the wine will be at its best and for the 2006 Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz the recommendation is "Drink Now Through 2016" (subscription to Wine Spectator Online is required and highly recommended). I interpret that as saying "this wine is good to go now, but with proper storage it'll still be just as good through 2016". Applying this to the original question- would there be diminishing returns associated with saving this wine? I would say yes- the returns are diminishing and especially if you can't provide a temperature controlled environment I'd drink this wine within the next year.

Another resource I regularly consult (and contribute to) is CellarTracker. CellarTracker allows you to see other wine drinker's tasting notes over time and even lets you see what the average community opinion is of the drinking window for each wine (for this wine it is 2009 to 2018). Here is the CellarTracker page for the 2006 Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz.

Do you have question you'd like to ask? Feel free to drop me an E-mail any time.

Do you find wine information like this useful? If so, I'd love it if you subscribed to the Wellesley Wine Press and had future updates automatically delivered to you.

Question of the Day: What do you think of this advice? How do you determine when to crack open a bottle of wine?


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