Drink Up. 9 Reasons NOT to Age wine.

Wine is meant for consuming.

Wine is meant for consuming.

I want to save the good stuff to drink when I’m with family and friends.

And that can be a problem.

Wine enthusiasts like me, will build up large cellars of awesome wine. This wine can sit for years and sometimes decades while the owner waits for the perfect occasion to open it.

While the owner of this wine collection is waiting some undesirable stuff can happen.

The wine can go bad.

Even stored under perfect conditions, wine can still go bad. Like everything, wine has an expiration date. The problem is no one really knows when that is. Some wines can last for decades, others only a year or two.

And that’s a great place to start my list: The 9 reasons NOT to age wine.

  1. Wine doesn’t last forever.

It’s a tragedy to find someone with a large old wine collection, only to find that many of the great bottles are past their prime and should be poured down the drain. It makes me cry.

2. Usual Suspects

Another tragedy that can happen to great wine that you are waiting for the perfect occasion to drink is that some unauthorized person can take the wine. Family members are a usual culprit.

Mom, who is going to a dinner party with her friends from work, and she doesn’t know Yellow Tail from Bordeaux, just took the first bottle of wine came across in you cellar. She figures you have a lot of wine, you won’t miss one bottle, plus she’ll go to the grocery store to replace it if you want.

She leaves the cellar with a bottle that says Cabernet Sauvignon. What she doesn’t know is that that was your last bottle of the 2002 vintage from your favorite small winery in Napa Valley. The bottle has the word Rutherford on it. You can’t replace the wine, it’s sold out, plus the current vintage sells for well over $150.

Thanks Mom.

3. 3-5% of all corks are faulty. Corks have one of the highest failure rates in any industry. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t matter if you buy California, Bordeaux, or Brunello, corks all around the world have a high failure rate. And the best wines are still sealed with corks.

You could hold on to a wine for a long time, pull it out, and the wine is garbage because the cork failed years ago.

4. Natural disasters. A house fire, hurricane, earthquake (I lived in Napa when the quake hit and lost some good wine), any random shit you can’t predict, can happen. And then you don’t get to drink your awesome wine.Why do you want to start collecting and aging wine?

5. I don’t know what the bullet point here is but consider this…

I worked with one of the best winemakers in Napa Valley. One of his bottles of wine sells for $250. He tells me to drink all California wine 8 years from the vintage. His customers buy his wine and say they will store it for 20 years. They are making a mistake.

6. Burglary.

I know this sounds out there, but someone could break into your house. While they are trying to steal your expensive shit, they see your wine cooler and snag a bottle on the way out the door. I’ve heard of this happening.

7. Moving.

You might move. It’s very difficult to move a collection of wine. Most people move in the warmer months. When you move the wine it’s easy for it to get too hot. The wine gets ruined in the move. I’ve experienced this many times.

8. You didn’t buy enough of the wine.

I only hold on to a wine if I have at least 6 bottles but preferably 12. That way you can drink it over the years so you can see when it’s at its peak. If you only have 1 or 2 bottles, go ahead and drink ‘em.

9. You could die.

If you get in a car accident or whatever and you leave this earth… Well, you can’t take your wine with you. You will have saved the wine and not had the pleasure of drinking it. That’s sad.

You might want to consider if you even should age wine. Most people (me included) should not. It’s not as good an idea as it seems.

“Serious Wine Collectors” hate to hear this. Ok, I understand we all have our deeply held beliefs. I’ve had “Serious Wine Collectors” tell me that my winemaker friend in Napa who makes great wine and suggests you drink it within 8 years of vintage, is an idiot.

Ok. Not likely, but whatever. This post isn’t for “Serious Wine Collectors.” We all have our hobbies and I’m not trying to shit on anyone’s hobby.

I’m just trying to help people avoid the mistakes I’ve made and mistakes I’ve seen a lot of others make as well. When I’ve had a beautiful bottle of wine that I’ve held for a long time get ruined I always think “Damn! I should’ve drank that wine on a Tuesday night while eating Ramen noodles and watching a movie, instead of holding it for the perfect occasion.”

It’s always a better use of the wine to drink it, than to hold it and it goes bad. But that’s just my opinion that I developed the hard way.

There are all sorts of bad random things that can happen if you hold on to a good bottle for too long.

I’m not trying to talk down to people aging wine. I’ve experienced the downside and the limited upside. The vast majority of the time it’s not worth it to hold wine for long periods.

Wine is meant to be consumed with family and friends. Do that instead of storing it forever.

What do you think, am I crazy?

I want to hear from Wine Enthusiasts.  What do you love about aging wine?  Has anything unfortunate ever happened to your favorite bottles that you’ve held on to?

Love me or hate me but please don’t ignore me.  Let me hear your thoughts in the Comments section.

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2011 Napa Valley Cabernet – A Difficult Vintage… Still Some Good Wines Though

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The summer of 2011 in California was a cool one.  Not as cool as the previous summer, 2010, but still below average.  Everyone thought it would heat up in September like it usually does.

It did not heat up.  Instead it poured rain.  It dumped.  Winemakers were worried about the grapes ripening.  It stopped raining for a few days.  Then it resumed dumping rain on the 2011 harvest.

The grapes came into the winery wet.  The tonnage was down.  Much of the crop didn’t ripen.  Much was left rotting on the vines.  Much of the mediocre juice was sold off in bulk.  One winemaker I know said it was the “worst vintage ever”.

I remember seeing one vineyard in the Livermore Valley.  They left an entire petit sirah vineyard rotting on the vine.  It was a total loss.

Napa Valley is blessed with some of the best weather on earth.  Winemakers usually have to battle grapes that are too ripe.  In 2011 the grapes weren’t ripe enough and they came in wet.

For 2011 wines from California and specifically Napa Valley, you want to stick to the best producers.  This vintage tested every winemaker’s skills.  Much of the mediocre wine was culled from the herd.  In the end there wasn’t much of the good wine left.

The cabernet sauvignons that made it through the selection process are not your average Napa Cabs.  They seem to be a bit leaner and lighter.  The viscosity or thickness is down.  The wines tend to be thinner.

That being said, these wines don’t suck.  They are different from the normal Napa style but still good.  In this vintage I stick with only my favorite producers.  The wines seem to have beautiful aromas, and plenty of flavor, but a thinness that is unusual to Napa Cab.  The wines should have lower alcohol volumes, but somehow, and I have no idea how, many of the wines seem to have their normal percentages.

Don’t write off the 2011 vintage.  Because there was not much wine made, the supply was low, the prices remained high.  There are some beautiful wines there you just have to be careful.

The wine pictured, a 2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from Sequoia Grove.  This wine is typical of how I described the vintage.  Plenty of aromas, plenty of flavors, but thinner than usual.  I really enjoyed this wine.

One recommendation for enjoying 2011 Napa Cabs is to respect them and let them breathe.  This Sequoia Grove took at least an hour to really open up.  It was worth the wait.

If you insist on the classic Napa Cab style of the fruit bomb magical mystery juice, then 2011 vintage might not be for you.  This maybe the forgotten vintage, but if you enjoy Napa Valley wines and can also appreciate a little diversity from the norm, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the 2011’s.

That’s my take on the 2011’s.  What is yours?  Am I right, wrong, or crazy?

Do Expensive Wines Taste Better?–maybe

A great tasting (in my opinion) expensive bottle of wine.

A great tasting (in my opinion) expensive bottle of wine.

I like the musings on The Freakonomics Podcast. It is a well polished program, more like a traditional radio show than the barebones conversational format of other podcasts.

One of their most popular episodes is “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?” I had to listen to this episode because 1)I’m a wine nut 2)the economics of wine are such that you don’t a lot of $$ to get a good bottle, and 3)this is a classic wine question.

I found myself disagreeing with the conclusion they made. Which is ok. I don’t agree with anyone 100%, not even myself.

While in college Levitt conducted the classic blind wine tasting on an unsuspecting group of wine-savvy colleagues. His colleagues usually purchased expensive wines for their dinner-meetings. When it was his turn to buy the wine, Levitt mixed in a few cheaper wines with the expensive ones, to see what the reactions would be.

Everyone agreed that the cheap bottles of wine were delicious.

When Levitt revealed the names of the wines, several of his wine enthusiast colleagues were pissed off. They also made up b.s. excuses as to why they couldn’t tell some of the wines were cheap plonk. One claimed that he had allergies and therefore didn’t have his normal sense of smell and taste.

The issue I had is that Dubner and Levitt seem to come to the conclusion that the cost of the wine bears no relation to the quality of the wine.

That’s where I say yes—and no.

While not a law (like the second law of thermodynamics) or a rule, expensive wine tasting better is more of a higher probability event. Great tasting wine often costs more to produce and the producer has to pass that cost on to the consumer, so good or great wine, usually costs more.

The problem is the wine world is weird. Taste and smell are subjective. Perception is everything. And all wine rules can be bent, broken, or completely disregarded.

A wine producer can take an average bottle of wine, put it in a heavy bottle, add some luxury marketing, and charge $100 a bottle. For whatever reason the recipe works and the wine is a hit. The producer can make and sell a lot of it.

Another wine producer can make a great bottle of wine from a less prestigious growing area, use economies of scale found in larger winery operations, maybe have a weak currency like the Argentinean Peso vs. the U.S. dollar, not charge much for the wine (maybe $20), and they can’t find any buyers.

This is one way expensive wine can be considered a bad value and cheap wine can be very high quality.

This is how it can seem that expensive wine is not better.

My experience living and working in Napa Valley was that the best wines were almost always expensive, it just depended on how expensive.

Napa Valley wines will always be expensive because the costs to produce the wine are so high. The land to grow the grapes, the labor, the water, everything is expensive. So the wines are generally expensive. And not all of them are worth the price.

But, even in Napa Valley, all wine rules can be bent, broken, or completely disregarded.

The winery I worked for was unique in that it owned top quality vineyards in most of the best growing areas in Napa Valley. Most wineries couldn’t afford to have so many high quality vineyards.

I got to taste wines from these various vineyards. I thought it was my duty, as a good employee, to do my homework and “get to know” these wines. I put in extra effort and did as much tasting as I could. I constantly pestered the winemakers to let me taste the young wines.

I tasted wines from Carneros, Howell Mountain, Oakville, Rutherford, and the Stags Leap District (all sub-growing regions in Napa Valley). I tasted the grapes as they’d come into the winery fresh from the vineyard. I’d taste the wines while they were fermenting. I’d tasted them in the barrel, and finally as the finished product in the bottle.

This is what winemakers do. They constantly taste and evaluate the wines.

The higher quality wines get higher quality treatment. That means that the best juice will spend more time aging in small oak barrels. The best juice may also spend time in new barrels (as opposed to 1 or 2 years old barrels), and the best juice will get the best barrels. The best barrels come from France and cost $1200 a barrel, compared to $600-$800 for an average barrel of American oak.

Tasting a variety of wines in barrel is a great learning experience. Most barrels look the same. The differences in the wines are limited to the smell and taste of the wine. There are no fancy labels, shiny bottles, or price tags to distract your judgment.

You end up judging the wine with less bias.

Tasting through barrels, it was clear that some juice was of much higher quality than others. Often times the best juice would come from our vineyards that were on rocky and sometimes steep hillsides.

These harder to access vineyards, were more labor intensive and had to be farmed by hand. They were often inaccessible to tractors. They cost more to farm than vineyards that laid flat on the valley floor.

The steep rocky vineyards produced fewer grapes per acre. The grapes they did produce were more intensely flavored. Less quantity, more quality and higher cost.

It was worth the effort. The wines were significantly better than the same wine grown a few hundred feet away on the flat land.

The best juice gets the best treatment. These higher production costs make the retail cost of the wine more expensive.

I saw this scenario play out over multiple vintages. The best wines came from the best sites. They got the best treatment. And the result was a high cost.

All that said. It sorta doesn’t matter. There is a world of wine. You can still find nice bottles of wine for cheap.

The problem is that the really good wines, from the best growing sites, usually taste better and cost more.

This makes my wallet unhappy.

Expensive wines often taste better. Expensive wines can taste better. Expensive wines should taste better (but remember the nature of wine rules).

Enough of this writing stuff. I’m off to test this theory myself.

P.S. What do you think?

How To Buy Good Wine For Less $$

A lot of wine.

A lot of wine.

Every state in the US now produces some type of wine. That’s crazy. Alaska wine? I’ve been to a winery at the southern tip of Florida. So many countries produce high quality wine that it’s hard to keep up with. The average quality of a bottle of wine is respectable.

All this influx of people and resources into the business has boosted production to historically high levels. The problem isn’t producing good wine anymore, the problem is selling it.This competition has crushed profit margins and put pressure on prices.

Yes, the famous wines will always demand a premium price, but that is only a small percentage of the market. The rest of the market has to fight it out for customers.

This is awesome for the cost conscious wine buyer.

You can buy good to very good wine for not very much money. Here’s how to do it.

1) Don’t spend more than $15-20 on a bottle.
You can get some great wine for cheap. You have to be open to new ideas. You have to learn new wine regions. You have to be patient. You can obtain wines that will excite and delight for no more than $20.

2) Costco is your friend
Costco is the number one retailer of wine in the US which is also the largest wine market in the world. They have massive influence on the industry. They negotiate the best prices because they buy in such large amounts. And they only markup the wines, at most 14-15% above their cost and often less. You can always get a good bottle for cheap at Costco.

3) Try new wines
You need to be open to new grape varieties and new wine regions and even new wine countries. In 2008 my go to wine was a $3 bottle of Carmenere from Chile, it was delicious. Like Napa Cab? Me too, but my wallet doesn’t. You can get a very good quality knockoff from Paso Robles for $15. What about different countries? Have you ever thought of England for sparkling wine? Spain will knock your socks off in the price to quality ratio for some of their sparklers.

4) Talk to your local wine merchant
The guy working in your local wine store is a good source for discovery of good cheap wine. If he is working in a wine store that means he doesn’t make much money. But he also likes to drink good wine, because OBVIOUS, he’s working in a wine store. So he’s a perfect resource. Ask him the best wine for no more than $15.

5) Private Labels
This is an area where you need to be cautious. Large companies like grocery stores like private labels because the profit margins are better. The wine is hit or miss. Some wines in a private label brand will be ok, some not, and sometimes the whole line up stinks.

Costco has done some good work with private labels. If there is a person working the wine section ask their opinion of private labels.

I’ve had both good and bad experiences with private labels, but I still feel it’s worth it to try a private label every now and then.

The Cameron Hughes line is similar to private labels. He buys finished wine from wineries. The wineries sell this wine instead of bottling it under their own label for a variety of reasons. I once had a Cameron Hughes Napa Valley Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon that cost $12 that was easily as good as a cab from a name brand winery costing 3 to 4 times as much.

Private labels are worth the risk every now and then. If you can get some extra tips from someone familiar with the wine you’re looking at that will help.

6) Whites are easier than Reds
There more excellent quality white wines in the $15-20 dollar range than red. Many white wines are fermented and aged in large stainless steel tanks where reds require time in small oak barrels. And often the whites age for less time than reds. Less expense in producing the wine means less expense in selling the wine.

One of my all time favorite white wines is made by my former employer Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier. The make 100,000 cases annually and the full retail price is $15 and it’s totally worth it.

The Cenin-Vio is just one of many examples of high quality white wines for cheap. You can also find good reds for cheap, it’s just easier for whites.

7) Special deals, discontinued wines, last of vintage, etc.
This is where you need patience. This is why you browse the wine shops and the wine aisles for no reason other than to look. The great deals will pop up but you never know when or where. Because there is such tremendous competition for sales inevitably some wineries/brands won’t be able to sell as much as they projected and they have to unload the wine at reduced prices.

Usually this is not because of the wine’s quality but the marketing behind the wine. This is the producer’s loss and your gain. You’ll know it when you stumble across these deals. At first you won’t believe the price is correct. After you recognize the situation, purchase immediately.

Once purchased, open this wine and taste immediately. If it’s as good a deal as you thought go back and by more bottles. Your future self will thank you.

8) Don’t hate the major labels
As a wine fiend it’s easy to hate the big brands. They’re all marketing. The wine’s watered down and thin. There’s no terrior. They’re definitely not cool.

Don’t fall for this trap.

These ideas maybe somewhat accurate but… you’ll be missing out. The major brands have the money and technical expertise to make high quality wine for cheap. Yes, some of the wines suck but most of them are pretty decent. And if you can find them on sale, which you often can, then your wine wallet will approve.

9) The Inside Source: Friends that work in the industry
This is will be the hardest deal for most people to get. If you don’t know anyone in the wine business don’t worry about it. Important: Don’t befriend someone just because they are in the wine business. That’s a silly reason to be friendly with someone. But… if you know someone that works in the wine producing, distributing, or selling side of the business… you can often talk them into buying some wine for you at their discounted employee price.

Proceed with caution. Don’t be annoying. But do let your friend know that you would like to purchase some wine at their employee price if they can make that happen.

10) Deal of the Day websites
The most popular deal of the day or flash-deal websites that I know of is Wines Till Soldout. These sites feature one discounted wine at a time. Be patient with these sites. During times of financial distress, like right after 2009, they can feature lots of amazing deals. When the economy is performing better, the amazing deals are in smaller supply.

This is just a rough guideline and I hope it helps.

Not every cheap bottle is good but many are.

The main idea is that you can drink high quality, tasty wines without spending a fortune. I personally won’t spend more than $15 on a bottle. The reason is simple. There is too much wine out there and the average quality is higher than ever.

If you have any questions or know of a great cheap wine I need to try, let me know at brucepaulson1@gmail.com

Step your game up… Glassware Matters.

The new guy.  The Riedel Vinum XL Cabernet Sauvignon glass.

The new guy. The Riedel Vinum XL Cabernet Sauvignon glass.

I stumbled upon this secret by dumb luck, no special talent on my own.

Glassware matters.  Great glass will enhance the smell and flavor of wine.  And it’s important.  I can’t describe how big of a difference great glassware makes.

The only way to experience it is to beg, borrow, or steal (yes, borrowing a glass is ok) an awesome glass.  Take this awesome glass and pour some awesome wine into it (if you need any suggestions at any price point just ask me).  Then take a regular wine glass that you find in your cupboard and pour the same wine into it.  If you have 3 or 4 glasses, go ahead and use ’em.  Pour some of the same wine into all of them.  Line them up next to each other.

Now smell them.  Don’t drink yet!  Smell first.

Stick your nose into the awesome glassware and whatever average glassware you have next to it.  Swirl the wine around.  Smell it again.  Smell several times.  It will be obvious.  You won’t be able to believe the difference in smell except for the fact that you are actually experiencing it.  There is a HUGE difference in the smell of the same wine in different glasses.

And great glassware always smell better.

It’s ridiculous.  You’ll stick your nose into a great piece of glass and smell aromas in the wine that you didn’t know existed.  The pleasure is more in the smelling of the wine (almost!) than in the drinking of it.

If you like wine you gotta try some over the top high quality stemware.  It’ll take your tasting experience to the next level.

Now I love great glassware, that’s why I’m writing about it’s awesomeness, but I don’t use great glass all the time.  Great glass is hard to come by.  It is usually expensive and always delicate.  You never want to use great glass when drunk, which is a problem because great glass will make you want to drink more wine.

Use self control.

Most of the time I use non fancy glassware.  I prefer to use high quality stemless glasses.  They do a great job.  They’re easy to use and provide a nice sensory experience.  But they aren’t great glass.

So when do you use great glass?

For special occasions.  And special wine.

Pro tip: Never clean a great piece of stemware after consuming wine.  Put the glass in a safe place and clean it in the morning.  Trust me.  I’ve broken way to much awesome irreplaceable stemware.