“Like fine old wine … ”
Television news anchors, characters in movies, and just ordinary folks often use this phrase or variations of it to imply that wine gets better with age.
Some of it does. But the vast majority of older wine is not better for additional time. In fact, most of it is not better.
It is true that the best red wines, whether in France, Italy, or California, can improve with time in the bottle. But that really represents just a tiny fraction of all the wine produced worldwide.
If I were to guess how much wine is made to be consumed almost as soon as it is in the bottle and the cork or screw top is fixed into place, I’d estimate that it’s roughly 99 percent. Older wines that are better for their age are so rare as to be essentially nonexistent.
There are two essential reasons why. The first comes down to the fact that wine’s most appealing characteristic is how fruity it is, allowing it to display the aromas of the grapes from which it came.
Wines that aren’t specifically designed to be aged are designed to be consumed young. That means keeping them away from oxygen at all costs; oxygen is the enemy of fruit.
Another reason that most wine doesn’t age is that most people do not have the proper storage conditions that allow it to improve over time. Even the best wines that are made to be aged require cool temperatures and consistent conditions without light or vibration.
These facts are well-known to people who consider themselves to be wine lovers, those people who regularly consume wines and know the dangers of trying to age them when they should not be aged.
I ran into an old friend the other day who adores New Zealand sauvignon blanc. She told me that it is her regular choice for a house white wine. She lives in New York, in a district that allows her the freedom to walk to work, and therefore she doesn’t own a car.
So she buys all of her wines at a nearby wine store. She asked me for a couple of suggestions about which brands were best. I said I didn’t know anything about the inventory at her local wine shop, so I went online and logged onto the wine shop she frequents most. And I learned something most interesting.
Almost all of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs this store was carrying were from 2019, making them much older than they should be for maximum enjoyment. Remember that New Zealand harvests its wine grapes six months ahead of the Northern Hemisphere, so the 2019 wine is really a 2018 1/2, making it almost exactly four years old.
And frankly, that’s not particularly appealing to people who prefer the fresh fruit that makes New Zealand SB such a hit in this country.
I told my friend, who said she was unaware that it was important to look for the vintage date on the wines she liked. Once she had tried a 2021 SB from New Zealand, she said, she understood completely why fresher is better!
A week ago, I began to see the first 2022 New Zealand sauvignon blancs on store shelves and tried one. It was delightfully fruity, almost vibrant, and how its acidity worked with appetizers. And I could also see it as an accompaniment to light seafood dishes.
Basic rule: Buy young wines and enjoy them for their fruity qualities.
Wine of the Week
2021 Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough ($15): This wine is actually a year older than it was when it first came out, but at the time it was so spectacular that I recommended that people buy some immediately. As did I. I found my last bottle the other day and opened it. It was still lively, vibrant, and loaded with fruit. A few bottles still remain in the marketplace. It remains a great value. The 2022 version of this wine is just out and will be reviewed soon.