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Old Wines and Young

No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.--Luke 5-39

Modern society loves new things. The latest smartphone, the current fashion, the new movie release, we all want to be up to date and fresh.

But fresh isn't always better. On the other hand, it isn't necessarily worse. Fresh is just 'fresh' and quality comes from other sources than mere newness or novelty. Pop culture has a clichéd attitude about wine age, with mawkish devotion to ancient vintages, and rich-but-foolish people pay fortunes for very old bottles of wine (which are not infrequently counterfeit). Aged and mature isn't always a positive quality: after all, it might just mean that something has been lousy for a really long time!

One thing that home winemakers get that their civilian counterparts rarely experience is the flavour of very young wine, and the zesty freshness that it brings. In the commercial world only Beaujolais Nouveau and some niche traditional wines (Strohwein in Germany, for one) are ever drank less than a year old.

Home winemakers, with their exposure to Vandergrift's First Law (Consumption will rise to meet all available sources of wine) often drink their bottles less than six or eight weeks after the yeast was pitched. Sadly, some of them feel like they're missing out because they don't have a cellar full of wines that have been ageing and improving for many years (they don't stop, they just fret about it)

I say relax! Here's something the local wine merchant won't publicise: very few wines under $50 taste better after more than a year in the bottle. People don't pay stupid money for vintage wine because it somehow got divinely better after fifty or a hundred years in the cellar--they buy it because after five decades most of it's gone, so the remaining bottles are rare and the price has gone up. At best, a 50 year-old bottle of wine might be acceptably drinkable as a historical curiosity, but it won't be a magical flavor experience--and that's if it's been stored in perfect conditions, and not in the hall closet under the galoshes and tennis rackets.

If you have a decent cellaring situation (dark, cool, steady temperature below 70F with decent humidity) your Master Vintner wines are going to age and improve for a year or so, especially the reds, which need just a bit of time for the tannins to integrate and round out with the fruit. Whites smooth out as well, although not quite as dramatically as reds do.

But it's just as fun to drink fresh, zippy, young wines, bursting with juiciness and fruitiness that will remind you of why you drink wine in the first place: it tastes good! Last summer I was asked if I had any wine for a garden party. The only thing I had on hand was a Master Vintner Moscato that had just finished clearing, and was only six weeks old. I didn't even bottle it, but rather racked it into a keg and served it on draft to the party goers.

It was a huge hit, and I got more compliments on that batch of wine than I have in years, which might just prove two things: 1) people love free wine, or 2) drink your wine when you want to--it's going to be delicious fun no matter how old it is.

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