The Naked Winemaker

My sage and existential wine loving friends will tell you that the answer to this question is simply “as long as it’s there”. This might be born out by a recent impromptu tasting I did in New York in the cellar of a major league Bordeaux collector. On the table were 12 bottles of rather old First Growths that had been open for four days. None of the wines had turned to vinegar. All were oxidized but I expect the brownish color was in part due to being exposed to so much air for so long. When I thought about the thousands of dollars those bottles represented it occurred to me, I could drink ‘em. But when I thought about how they would taste if they were freshly opened I decided most of them were no longer good.

Which takes us back to the question of “How long is a wine good?” or perhaps more importantly, what is the acceptable definition of a good wine? And do we all share the same opinion?

 So let me digress for a moment and talk about “good wines.” To this I must refer to what I call The Miracle of Perception. Some people look for fresh fruity flavors in wine (we winemakers may describe them as having hints of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, peach, apple, or any number of other common or uncommon fruits or flowers), while others seem to prefer more “earthy” notes (you may often hear this range of flavors described as barnyard, grassy, mushroomy, woody, sweaty armpit, wet dog and/or other equally graphic descriptors). Some admire light bodied delicate wines while others go for complex “big ass” wines you can almost chew. Some of us like high acid crisp wines while an equal number want the wines soft, smooth and velvety. And on and on. In the final element, we all have varying degrees of ability to discern smells and flavors and our palates are in a happy state of flux as we study and train for the Wine Olympics.

 So, having established that there are many different kinds of wines (more on this next month), this naked winemaker will now give you a bare answer that strips away everything but the simple facts.

(1) If the wine is light, fresh and fruity (these are mostly white and usually quite inexpensive) it was made to drink young: a year or two from the vintage date on the bottle, definitely within three years. These wines are also best when just opened. Once the cork is out the wine begins to oxidize and go downhill. So drink the bottle and have fun. Some examples of this style wine: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the hot new Spanish Alberino’s, light reds from Beaujolais, Chaddsford Pinot Grigio or Naked Chardonnay.

(2)  If the wine is big, rich and earthy (usually red, typically barrel-aged, from moderately expensive to the-sky’s-the-limit) it was probably made for longer term aging and will improve with time, anywhere from a few years to decades. Don’t even think about drinking these wines until three years past the vintage date on the bottle. Air may enhance and “open-up” these bottles, so let it breathe and watch it change in your glass and in the bottle over a few days. Some examples: the big reds from Bordeaux and Burgundy, California Cabs, Italian Barolo, Chaddsford Merican (Cab/Merlot blend) or Due Rossi (Italian blend).

 If you need more info than this I applaud you. You are now a Wine Nerd of the Highest Order. Send me an email at if you have particular wines you need to know more naked truth about.



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