I am convinced that most of us drink wine that could benefit from further aging thus missing the best qualities that the wine would show in its prime. Partly, this is because we imagine that it is very difficult to find a substantial, ready-to-drink, red wine without paying an arm and a leg. On the other hand, many wines are made today to be drunk relatively young.
The overall range and variety of wines available has also grown enormously. The grand names of Bordeaux and Burgundy, together with other prestigious wines like Napa Valley Cabernets, Barolo, Brunello and Grange Hermitage, from South Australia, have become ever more giddily expensive. For most of us, it does not make sense to buy wines that cost a fortune and still need to be laid down for many years.
Can it still make sense to lay wine down? When you buy well-aged wine, you are paying the cost that someone else incurred by storing it for the necessary time. If you buy wines shortly after they are released (often the only kind you can find), they are more likely to be ready to drink than in the past. This does not mean, though, that many of them would not improve with a bit more time in the bottle. Today, winemakers are well aware that most wines will be drunk shortly after purchase. Thus, they make wines that emphasize ripe fruit, ones easy to drink young.
When first released, however, such wines still show “primary,” rather than “developed” fruit. The term “primary” describes the characteristic that you get when biting into a fresh apple or a ripe strawberry. “Developed” refers to what happens as the wine evolves with further aging. The primary fruit character subsides and is replaced by more subtle flavours. Youthful acids and tannins also soften, making for a more rounded impression on the palate. While most modern wines do not need prolonged cellaring — like some of the green, heavily tannic reds of yesteryear — many will still benefit from two to five years further aging. Big, heavily concentrated reds may need 7 to 10 years. Remember that sour stomach from eating too much fresh fruit as a kid? Even pleasantly ripe young red wines have some of the same raw acidity as fresh fruit.