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Q: Which Wines to Age and Decant?

by David on May 11, 2006

Question from David: I am confused about which wines can be placed in the cellar to age for a number of years, which are best decanted and those that can be opened right away. Are there certain varietals that best fall into those categories and can you tell before uncorking and tasting.

FYI – I just received my shippment of red and I am so excited over the cabs but I have to restrain because I want to age them for some time.

Answer:Hi, David! You hit me with a hard one! There’s no simple answer so I’ll do the easy part first.

About decanting: There are two reasons to decant. One is to aerate a young wine to bring out its aroma and flavor and the other is to remove older wine from the sediment. I’m a huge advocate of decanting almost any well-made wine except sparkling wine. The reds benefit the most, but complex whites like Chardonnay can also be enhanced. You might decant the wine an hour or two before dinner if it’s quite young. There’s nothing wrong with decanting simple, fresh whites, but you may not notice as much difference in them. For young reds, it’s fine to splash the wine into the decanter to get lots of air into them. For older reds, it’s smart to stand the wine up for a day before you plan to serve it so the sediment settles, then gently and carefully decant the wine until you see the sediment come up into the neck of the bottle. If the wine is quite old or tawny in color decant and drink, don’t wait.    

Aging: Aging is tricky and perceived “improvement” over time is highly subjective.

Whites – Most whites should be consumed within 3 years of the vintage date. For fresh whites like our Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc, the younger the better. Our Chardonnay, and other high quality Chardonnays can improve with a little bottle age. Ours is very nice at 4-5 years old. The rule of thumb is that if you like it fruity, drink it sooner. If you like more toasty, caramelized character, drink it later.

Reds: Much more complicated. The Howell Mountain Cab in your shipment should live a very long time, probably at least another 5-10 years. This is often true with big, bold, tannic reds. The 2002 Napa Cab in your shipment is made to be more fruit-forward and accessible, so up to another 5 years or so. The Merlot, probably not quite as long. Fruit-driven reds like Zinfandel and AmerItal are attractive mainly due to their fruitiness. They can be aged a little because they have a bit of tannin, but they lose fruit with time, and you may prefer them on the younger side. I’d like to suggest that you err on the side of youth, especially if you have only one or two bottles of any given wine. All we can do now is make an educated guess as to how the wine will age. Sometimes we get surprised! If you have several bottles of the same wine, then you have the luxury of opening one from time to time to see how it’s coming along and the risk of it getting too old is less. Also, it’s a lot of fun to taste the same wine when it’s young, make some notes about your impressions, and then taste it again when it’s older to enjoy its evolution.

Dessert wines: Complex, rich dessert wines like Sauternes and other late-harvest wines and Port-style wines can live for years and years. Best to ask your retailer when you buy it. Fresh dessert wines like light-style Muscat wines are better when they’re very young.

I hope this is helpful. I want you to know that an article on aging and cellaring is posted on our website,, along with lots of other informational articles if you want to read further. You can also access informational podcasts, including one on aging and cellaring, on our homepage.

Thanks for your question, and enjoy those wines! Cheers! Nancy

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