This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. According to a couple of reports, though neither are very recent, 70-90% of all wine purchased in the US of A is consumed within 24 hours of purchase1.
The vast majority of wine is made for that purpose as well. Most everything you see on a grocery or liquor store shelf was made to be consumed sooner rather than later. There are a solitary few that are built to age, but that is because of the statistic above.
Now, if that is the case why is there a stigma that wine gets better with age? Well, look back to some of the more classic producers and vintages that the world has seen. If you look at some Bordeaux first or second growths, Grand Cru Burgundies, Italian Barolo (until maybe 1970 or 80 during the “Barolo wars”) amongst others these wines took years to soften and be approachable. That Barolo wars happened largely because a chunk of producers decided that they were going to make wines with more modern techniques that lead to softer more approachable wines. Similar trends would follow in other regions as well.
With the trend of “approachability” in full swing by the 1990s there weren’t many producers that looked back except for a chosen few who stuck to their guns. To this day I am pretty sure DRC and the like probably aren’t “ready” to drink for more than just a couple of years but I could be wrong. Even with an old guard of producers sticking to tradition the general wine-consuming public has opted for wines that are ready to drink sooner rather than later (preferable within a few hours of when we pick it up from the store shelf).
So why is age-ability so important to so many small and large producers alike? Why not just opt for easy of drinking to we can throw more wine down our gullet sooner rather than later?
For the last couple years I have been thinking of a better way to classify wines, specifically for myself when it comes to making purchasing decisions for those ready-to-drink and age worthy wines. In that thought process I came up with the following:
MTGA’s Subjective Exponential Scale of Wine Enjoyment
0 = AWFUL
This wine probably doesn’t deserve a third or fourth taste. It is just bad. It could be flawed or just not what you like. In other words it will be a cold day in hell when you spend your hard earned dollars on it.
1 = OK
This wine could be the 3rd or 4th bottle of the night and still it would just be ok. It isn’t necessarily something you would seek out but if it is on the table you aren’t opposed to putting it in your glass.
2 = GOOD
The wines that fall into this category are worth your time. You would probably end up buying a bottle or three if you saw it on a shelf or if you were at the winery. They aren’t anything special but are a good option when you just need that glass of wine at the end of the day.
3 = GREAT
This is where the 6 bottle+ purchases happen. These wines are the ones you want around at all times. They are your go-to wine of choice and you are always willing to restock on them.
4 = EXCELLENT
As we move of the scale this is where the buying potential really kicks in. If a wine is excellent it means you will go out of your way to make sure that you have a decent stock of it around. These are probably the wine clubs you are in or the release notices you always respond to.
5 = MINDBLOWING
These wines are the hardest to come by. In fact there have probably just been a handful of them that you have experienced at best. The reason for that is these wines are the reason you drink wine. They are what you consider the epitome of awesome wine to be. This could be that bottle of DRC you finally tried or that random bottle of $20 Rioja that made a meal that much better. Either way you are on a constant search to track down this category.
This scale is much like the Richter Scale. Moving up from 0 to 1 or 3 to 4 is not easy. There are plenty of points in between before you get all the way to the top.
The key to this scale is that it is entirely subjective. Ratings, reviews, professional opinions are irrelevant because they don’t focus on the enjoyment that a wine provides. This scale is all about how much you or I enjoy a particular wine and as a result how likely we are to seek out more of it.
It has been my experience that well made wines that are built to age work their way up the scale at a more rapid pace than those that are built for approachability. The approachable wines always end up somewhere in the middle for me (between ok and good). Some of the wines that I have really loved and that were in the good to mind-blowing sections have, for the most part, been vintages that were 10-20 years old when I consumed them.
Again, this is purely subjective. I like wines that are smoother, earthier, with less tannin, and with a bit more subtlety. But that is just me. If you love white Zin, butter bomb Chardonnay or the biggest boldest Petite Sirah you can find they will probably be high on your own scale. There is nothing wrong with what you prefer because wine is subjective.
Whether you love those approachable wines or you purchase wine to age it for 10+ years this scale can apply. The importance of approachability and age-ability are parallel and though not necessarily equal due to the vast majority of wines that are consumed so quickly. Realistically it isn’t like you have to pick a side and stick with it. You can drink whatever the hell you want, even if you don’t particularly enjoy it; hopefully you do though.
1 – Gaiter, Dorothy J., and John Brecher. “Wine Picks for the Starter Collector.” WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 1 Mar. 2003. Web. 19 Dec. 2015.