Food & Drink

Ageing Wine

You may have toyed with the idea of wine collecting; it’s an appealing prospect. Maybe you’ve already begun putting together your own private wine collection. Maybe you’ve also got a decent cigar collection going. I have both, and what a joy they are.

Recently, an excellent series of articles about ageing cigars here on really caught my eye. Written by David “Doc” Diaz, it re-confirmed a theory I’ve held for a long time: AGEING CIGARS CLOSELY PARALLELS AGEING WINE.

Why age either? Aren’t cigars and wine a done deal when they leave the factory? Well, yes, but both may carry a latent potential improvement factor that begs a degree of patience.

You wait a week from when your stogies arrive: you know they really want that little bit of humi time to settle. But sometimes you’ve just got to tear into that box right off the truck. I know: I’ve been there too. And often enough you pick up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon on the way to a dinner party and it gets devoured faster than you can say “Robert Mondavi.” Well, that’s all okay, really, but the point here is that if you’d like to taste those newly acquired smokes at their best, you might consider stowing away at least a few of them for future consumption. And, if the wine you toted to that soiree was really pretty good, why you’d just better mosey on down to that shop and pick up a couple more bottles as soon as you can before they all sell out. Yes, as soon as you can manage it, buy some additional bottles to “lay down” (wine collector jargon). Plan to taste them again at some time in the future.

And that’s the start of your collection. Simple.

If your selection turns out to be age-worthy, six months from now it will taste a lot better. And a year from now, when it really hits its stride, you’ll be kicking yourself for not having purchased a case.

I now ask you to think about cigars which you may have kept in your humidor for a similar duration. See what I mean?

Your main motivation for collecting wines, next to hoarding (mine!) would appear to be that potential-improvement-factor, but I’ll go you one better:


It’s one of those things that’s kind of obvious, but still needs to be stated. Yes, there’s a bit of investment required here, as well as a distinct measure of discipline (you’ve got to keep your mitts off them puppies), but it pays rich dividends. And the greatest of these is the priceless knowledge of the changes that occur in a wine over a given time span. This knowledge can only be garnered through the tasting experience itself, by one’s own direct observations over the course of time.

Now if you think you’d like to play this game, here is a practical, affordable, little rule of thumb: BUY THREE AND LET TWO BE.

This is easy to do, fun, not too expensive, and classy. If a wine interests you, buy three bottles, drink one now, and stash the other two for future “research.” You may, of course, buy more than three. Four or six is nice, not to mention cases. If you’ve got the dough and the storage space, then by all means, be my guest. But three serves the purpose.

I recommend intervals of three or six months between tastings. That time frame works pretty much quite as well with wines as it does with cigars, with a nod to Doc Diaz’s August and September CigarAdvisor articles. If you’d prefer to wait a year or two between tastings, that’s okay too: it’s discretionary on your part. Sometimes the first bottle will hint that you ought to wait a little while longer before opening the next one. With enough practical experience you will eventually develop really good judgment about when a wine will be at its best: the proverbial educated guesstimate. And when it does reach that stage, drink up and enjoy. By the way: the convenience of having a couple of extra bottles of wine on hand is always a plus, too.

Note this well: If to your palate the wine tastes just plain 100% yum right now, guess what? Drink it! Why wait? It’s ready already.

I anticipate a question: How can I know which wines qualify as keepers? Back labels sometimes hint at ageing potential, but for dependable advice, you’ll find a bottle shop’s knowledgeable wine buyer –who may have tasted most (maybe even all) of the wines in the store– a reliable source for such appraisals. Cultivating a relationship with him or her is well worth the effort.

How cool is it to meet a woman who likes to drink red wine and/or smoke cigars?

Additionally, there are many periodicals which review tons of wines in every issue and give a good estimate of when each will be drinking at its best.

My story: In the early 1970’s I was fortunate to acquire five half-bottles of BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1964, a Napa Valley classic and a rarity. The first bottle I tasted was very good, but “tight” (closed, “hard”). The wine showed lots of room for improvement. The second, six months later, was better, a bit softer. The third -same time gap– starting to open up, but not quite there yet. So I gave the fourth bottle another year. When I pulled the cork it was like having Handel’s entire Messiah Chorus in my glass. Oh My God, Hallelujah! What a wine. Then I waited one more year to taste the last one: it was, alas, gone, shot, dead, kaput. Was I distressed? No. What a priceless lesson I had learned. And in the process I got to taste the one at its wide-open full-throttle eye-opening mind-blowing peak of Glory.

I encourage you to engineer a similar learning experience for yourself.