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Q: Can California Wines be Aged?

by David on January 6, 2007

Question from Thomas: HEARD A NASTY RUMOR AT OUR WINE GROUP THAT CALIFORNIA WINES ARE NOT HOLDING UP {I.E. OVER A PERIOD OF YEARS] PLEASE REPLY

Answer: Hi, Thomas! You threw me a hard ball! A question like this can really set things off in the blogosphere!

There are many California wines, especially Cabernet, that have done very well over time but, theoretically, they shouldn’t age as well as most old-world wines because our climate is generally warmer, which usually means riper grapes of lower acidity than those from cooler climates. Warm-climate wines can be very attractive when they’re young because they show lots of fruit and are relatively soft, but they may not be as long lived as wines from cooler climates. Alternatively, cold-climate wines are sometimes hard to enjoy in their youth because they are less generously fruity and can be austere and tannic. So, while it’s an inexact science at best, a general guideline might be to buy California wines for relatively early drinking and put away the old-world wines for the long haul.

I think that theory holds up a lot of the time, but apparently not with the best of the best. When it was announced that there would be a 30th anniversary tasting of the “Judgement of Paris,” I was concerned that the California wines would be an embarrassment–way over the hill. I was wrong. At 30 years of age, the California wines took the top 5 out of 10 spots from a crackerjack tasting panel.

So, I think my answer is that it depends upon the wine. There are two main structural things that help wine to age well, beyond overall good balance. One is tannin, which is astringent and makes your teeth feel furry, and the other is acid, which tastes tart and makes your mouth water. If you taste a young wine that you find attractive and also has a healthy dose of tannin and/or acid (my experience is that acid is a better preservative than tannin), it may be a good candidate for aging. How long? The only way to find out is to try it, so it’s smart to get more than one bottle if you want to put it to the test.

I hope that helps! Thanks again for writing. Cheers! Nancy

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