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Laying Down Wine


The majority of wine sold in the United States is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. Today, most wines are ready to drink upon release, with winemakers favoring a fruit-forward, very approachable style. That was not always the case. Until the late '70s regions like Bordeaux, Piedmont or Rioja, to name a few, produced wines that were closed in and rather unpleasant upon release. Tannins, one of the components that can contribute to the longevity of a wine, were bigger and added an unpleasant bitterness. With time, the wines evolved, the tannins resolved themselves and the best wines took on a complexity that was sought after and cherished.

Now it's all about immediate gratification with rich, ripe fruit and sweet oak leading the way. Wine making techniques and vineyard management have helped to create a more level playing field, easing the roller coaster ride of good and bad vintages, and allowing decent wines to be made in all but the worst years. Overly tannic wines are rare and those tannins present are riper and better integrated making them much less objectionable. So why do some people still lay down wine?

Even if you never plan on keeping any wine for more than a few months, putting together a small collection of bottles makes sense for reasons of economy and convenience. You save when you buy by the case, and it's always nice to have a few bottles around for when guests drop by unexpectedly. And when you find a wine you like, you should lay in a decent supply to avoid the disappointment of discovering that it's sold out.

Beyond that, it is fun to see how wines change over the years, and even with today's more forward styles, wines do continue to evolve in the bottle. I recently had the chance to taste a variety of different wines from the 1996 vintage, and it demonstrated both the rewards and pitfalls of laying down wines. A white Burgundy from Sauzet was disappointing, the fruit having dropped off too much leaving a sharp acid spike. But a red Bordeaux from Cos d'Estournel had incredible fruit with layers of aromas and flavors in a very well-integrated wine. And a Cab, Cab Franc blend from Viader proved amazingly fresh with bright blackberry fruit, nicely resolved tannins, a velvety texture and spicy layers of mocha and dark berry on the finish. So while there's nothing wrong with drinking a wine the day you buy it, try losing a bottle or two in a dark, cool closet to enjoy a few years down the line.