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Berger: Facts and realities about aging wines

There are many ways to categorize wine, the most obvious being by color. Red wines clearly differ from whites. Another is by varietal; most sauvignon blancs differ from most chardonnays.

And of course there are differences in vintages, regions, winemaking styles, and oak-aging regimes.

One way to separate wines is into one of three broad categories: (a) wines that age, (b) wines that do not, and a third sort of gray area in which a wine may or may not age well based on various situations.

One could probably write a book on this arcane subject, but generally something like 90% of the wines made in the world are in Category A — drink now. Another 5% are in Category B, and 5% in Category C.

The latter are wines that surprise people by how nice they taste even though the winemaker never had aging in mind when the wine was young.

A complication of writing about such a topic is that a key issue here is how tolerant the taster is for older wines that do not display much if any of the characteristics that made the wine appealing when young.

Most wine has evident fruit when it is young. This inevitably fades over time. How willing a taster is to trade off the fruit for complexity is part of that taster's tolerance for less-than-fruity wines.

And much of that comes with education. The more you taste older wines, the more you either love them or hate them.

We can go varietal by varietal here, but in general the lower the price, the less likely a wine will be to deliver much pleasure over time.

Red Bordeaux: Most do not age well, though many are a bit tough and tannic when young, so a year or two after release the wines generally taste a bit better. At the upper end, first-growth wines like Chateau Margaux are sublime when 20 years old, and from great vintages, the wines can live a lot longer.

California pinot noir: Modestly priced wines should be consumed immediately, but a few higher-end Pinots can be terrific at age 10 to 15. Again, the wines change, but are often worth the extra time in the bottle.

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