Are wine drinking windows accurate?

    Wine culture in our household is pretty simple. I like to open, here and now. Little Loni likes to cellar them away.

    Drinking Window

    Drinking WindowThere’s always a bit of a brouhaha when it comes to aging a wine versus popping the sucker then and there. It’s the age old “life’s too short” sort of thing in one corner, and “good things come to those who wait” in the other. But are drinking windows — those range of years that tell us when its optimal to pop the cork — really accurate, and should they be trusted?

    Maddening as it is to some, I probably come down smack dab in the middle of that debate; blame my Canadian upbringing if you will. It’s like the Life Savers television commerical from the 70s — but, wait, you’re both right it’s two mints in one! Yet, over time, after surviving a bubble or two here in Silicon Valley and watching nieces and nephews grow so fast, I’ve come to realize that there’s something to be said for the here and now.

    Drink no wine before its time

    And, as I navigated our cellar trying to find an excuse to open something (anything!) I also wondered where these mysterious windows came from. I picture a group of gangsters huddled around a table in a smokey Vegas night club… yeah, 2015-2020 … that’s the ticket!

    Wine culture in our household is pretty simple. I like to open, here and now. Little Loni likes to cellar them away (a 40% return!).

    So I’m always looking for an excuse to open that Silver Oaks (nice try buddy), or Etude (not happening), or even just a friendly Artesa Pinot (50/50 proposition). Armed with hard, cold data such as drinking windows, possibly generated by a roomful of mainframes, would surely help me make the case.

    I was surprised to learn that, at least according to CellarTracker (the wine cloud of wine clouds), there were at least 13 wines in our cellar that had passed their primes. As I scanned the wine list, one line item in particular jumped out at me: 3 bottles of 1999 Grgich Hills Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon ($72). By Napa standards not a budget-buster. Still, I was somewhat peeved at myself for missing the fact that the end of its drinking window has passed (2004-2009). Then I realized according to CT data, the window for this bottle was only 10 years. Kind of short, I thought, for a Napa cab, no? Maybe not – it’s not a Bordeaux. I wasn’t really sure what to think, so I Googled a bit to see if there was additional information:

    Search = “1999 Grgich Hills Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon” – results mostly links to CellarTracker. Kudos Eric! But I wanted to corroborate the information.

    Search = “how long can i age a napa cab” – links to Wikipedia, Natalie MacLean (see, Blame Canada I tell you), Yahoo Answers. Not much to go on.

    Search = “best sushi restaurant San Francisco” – now we’re getting somewhere…

    I know, I know. Wine is socially-driven, not research-driven. I’m probably lending credence to the notion of just pop the cork and drink the darn thing already.

    You’re probably right about that, but then again, like baseball, wine is sometimes a game of numbers (alc. level, brix, no. of months aged in barrels, blending %, etc.).

    Maybe tonight I’ll keep it simple and stick with a trusty old Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling ($6.99 Trader Joe’s). I will drink the agreeable plonk merrily, and think about what could be.

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    • Clinton, at Grgich Hills, we’ve found our Cabernet Sauvignon often seems to peak around 10 years and will continue to develop for another 20 to 30 years, Besides Mike Grgich, who has been making wine for more than 50 years, we have Gary Ecklin, who has been part of the winemaking team for 30 years and Mike’s nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, who has been making wine with Mike for 25 years, so we have some experience in following the wine’s development.

      • Hey Ken, thanks for that… although I might need to hide your comment from Loni – I’d like to tell her that it needs to be opened now, el pronto :) Fortunately we have 3 bottles, so we could open one now, then one in 2021 and 2031. Now that should be fun to chronicle!

    • Amberwinegirl

      Heh, I did some of your google searches and I found this Wikipedia article

      It seems that according to Jansis Robinson most people wait too long to drink their wine.

      • Wikipedia strikes again! Thanks for the link Amberwinegirl (sounds like a beer/wine mix there) I will check that later tonight when I get back from this Google event at the Computer History Museum… after which I will need a glass to cool down my surely overloaded brain. I’ll be sure to remind my collector wife those words of wisdom from Jancis. I could not agree more!

    • Kit Cosper

      I have a few “holdbacks” but in general it’s sooner rather than later. I’ve got some cabs that I can generally find that are several years old, so I don’t have to hold them as long as if I got them “fresh” The higher end I’ll hold for a while, generally with a future occasion in mind (anniversary, graduation, birthday, etc.) Others I keep around for a few months to a few years or until I hit the menu/mood/timing trifecta and pull it from the cellar. In the end it’s to be enjoyed, so my focus is maximizing the enjoyment from each bottle. A meal that fits a wine exceptionally well is light years beyond a great bottle of wine and a mediocre meal. Of course I have a lot of fun trying to find the perfect $12 bottle of wine…

      • Sounds reasonable, and pretty close to what I “attempt” to do, with mixed results – something about having to convince the collector to OPEN. 

        I like that “trifecta” expression of the menu/mood/timing – it’s the intersection of all 3 of those that has lead to some favorite food/wine memories in this household. One that stands out: Sushi and a ’97 Bollinger. Exceptional, unforgettable! On the $12 search, I like Toasted Head Chard and Kim Crawford Sauv Blanc (both avail. at Costco – they’ve got great wine buys, albeit nothing too exotic).

    • captain

      Oh come on!  All that walk and not even a swallow of 30yo Napa Cab???  You are a big bad tease!  I still don’t have any better idea than cellartracker, though at least I did think to go to the wineries’ sites to see what the wine makers think it the drinking window.  ;-)

      • Ha, the last time I enjoyed a 30yo Napa Cab was at the Mondavi four decades dinner where a memorable vertical (’79, ’81, ’97, ’07) was served … plug: if you want my full story including the karaoke scene later on the bus with the wine trade:

        Regarding drinking windows, agree CT is my only ref. point, aside from checking web sites as you suggest. Of course, random experimentation is not a bad option either – it comes in handy though if you have at least a few bottles so you can compare over time. Ah, all in the name of work :)