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Understanding Aged Wine

There are few things in this world as delightful as a perfectly aged wine. Certain regions around the world produce wines that are particularly age-worthy. The beauty of the Sierra Foothills is the diversity of grapes and the ability to somewhat mimic many of these regions. While few Foothills wines are made with the intention of being aged, some are and many others are inherently age-worthy. Since we will be tasting many of these, it is important that we have a common language and understanding of what we are tasting. This is what we’ll be discussing in this post.


Early on in the life of a wine, fresh primary aromas dominate. Over time, the freshness gives way to desiccated aromas. Over more time, the earthy, decaying aromas come to the fore. Eventually all of the fruit and all of the flowers are gone, and the wine returns to the beautiful dust and mold from whence it came. There is no life left, only death.


This is simply the way I like to think about the stages of a wine’s development. A wine is exuberant in its youth, awkwardly adolescent in its development, resplendent when primaries and tertiaries mix, sublime in its tertiary phase, is wise in its later life, and then eventually there is not much left except the memory of what once was (which can actually be a wonderful experience).


For me, and contrary to conventional thinking, complexity doesn’t wane as the primaries fade. Tertiaries themselves gain complexity as they continue to develop. I suggest the Old Complexity curve is just wrong. (People I respect will disagree).


When it comes to drinking aged wines, there are three different types of drinkers. (1) The Aged-Wine Dabbler (often called The Modern Drinker): prefers young wine but views some beginning tertiaries as a special treat. This is the WSET “drink now” crowd. They want to spit out anything that starts to hint of grandma’s sofa. (2) The Aged Wine Lover: the “drinking window” crowd and the majority of people that consider themselves aged wine drinkers. Aged Wine Lovers tend to avoid the wines that are in their awkward adolescent stage, not so much because the wines are bad but more because the wines are so close to being closer to their potential.

(3) Old Souls: The older, dankier, mustier, the better. Many Aged Wine Lovers find themselves gravitating here as they themselves age (myself included!). Bring on grandma’s sofa! Smack dab in the middle of the Age of Resplendance is the best chance to please everyone… maybe the only chance!


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