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Your questions answered: How long before a wine its at it’s peak?

You may not be aware, I’m happy to answer your questions about wine and maybe even give you 5 min of fame in the process…if you want it. A friend of mine in the USA (howdy Ron), asked the following question:

How do you determine how long to cellar a wine before consuming near its peak?

Unfortunately, most wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. Most people don’t even think to ask this question, although as someone who specialises in back vintage wines, it is something I often ponder. And the answer to the question depends on a number of factors.

First, not all wines are designed to age – some are designed to be drunk young and fresh. So these wines are often at their peak shortly after they are released. Examples include aromatic white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, and light red wines with little oak contact, which include high volume cheaper brands. As discussed in my previous articles the following are crucial in allowing wines to age:

  • High Acid for white wines;
  • High Tannin, usually from oak contact, for red wines.

However, this assumes that all other elements, like flavour, are in balance. This is why Riesling (with its high acid levels) and Cabernet Sauvignon (that has spent a lot of time in oak barrels) can last for decades.

When it comes to identifying a wine’s peak, some of it comes down to personal preference: what do you look for in a wine that you consider is at its’peak’? Some people prefer young wines that are fruity and fresh and consider this a wine’s peak. Others, myself included, prefer wines that have some age and development, with less primary fruit and more aged savoury characters (think cured meat and leather).

The wine maker may also have a different definition of when a wine is at its’peak’. Technically, there comes a point in the life of every wine where all of the elements, like flavour, acid and/or tannin, all come together to be in perfect balance. This is the point at which it is considered to be at its technical peak. But this is a ‘best estimate’ based on experience with previous vintages of the same wine and assumes perfect cellaring conditions. So most wine makers err on the side of caution when suggesting the best time for a wine to be drunk and shorten the cellaring times so consumers don’t miss its peak. As most of us don’t store wine under ideal conditions this can often be a good guide.

But there are also a number of good wines guides and sites that can assist. Most will list ‘Drink By’ dates which roughly equate to the wine’s peak. Although, once again it comes down to the personal preference of the person consuming the wine, but the sites do often have a good knowledge bank of each wine and how previous vintages have aged. For Australian wines a good guide is James Holidays Wine Companion and for overseas wines it’s Wine Spectator. I subscribe to both.

Identifying the peak also comes down to how you cellar your wines. Wines stored under ideal conditions will last longer than wines stored in a cupboard in the kitchen, hallway or bedroom. Wine is sensitive to temperature variations, so ideally where the wine is stored must be at a constant temperature. Cooler storage is also better, which is why wine is often stored in underground cellars, although many of us don’t have cellars these days. I will go into the details of cellaring wine in another article.

With all that said, the general thinking is it’s better to drink a wine too young than once it’s gone past it’s peak!

Remember, if you have any questions please feel free to email me or contact me through my Facebook page. I am also happy to tailor corporate events to you needs and budget – perhaps even an exploration of wines designed to be drunk young and those more suited to ageing for your clients or team. Feel free to reach out to me here for an initial discussion.

In the meantime, if you need any tips or advice then feel free to reach out to me on our Facebook page and sign up to my mailing list to get access to our newsletter and wine specials.



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