Aged wine - what am I missing?

Over the years I’ve had predominantly new world, young (<5 years) wines, as well as several young-ish wines (<10 years). Every time I’ve had a good bottle of wine that happens to be aged >15 years the predominant tasting note I can come up with is “musty” regardless of the quality of the producer or the cost of the bottle. Given my lack of experience with aged wine, I initially thought that this mustiness was a problem with aging or the bottle itself, but I find this to be nearly universally true for aged wines that I’ve tasted. Is there some trick that I’m missing in order to unlock these complex flavors everyone talks about? I’ve tried decanting, not decanting, etc…

Any specific examples of the aged wine to which you are referring ??? And the background (I bought upon release , I found in my friends attic , bought from a retailer)-referred to as provenance .

With old wines you’ll be missing fruit. Perhaps older wines are not your thing?

Mike, this is a great topic, thanks for bringing it up. It’s really going to depend on what you like and what you look for in a wine. Have you had any older white wines; or is this about reds exclusively? With reds, I think you’re talking about how as they age there is a point where the bright fruit shifts and transitions away and more rustic notes start to transition in. Violets transition into dried or decaying flowers, notes of mushroom come forward, and fruit starts to show a more dried character rather than fresh or jam.

Mike - Without knowing what aged wines you’ve shrugged at, it’s really hard to know if you just prefer younger wines (perfectly legitimate) or if it’s the wines. The overwhelming proportion of all wines are meant to be drunk in the first few years after release and won’t gain anything from aging.

I have had some wines which definitely have that musty old library book feel, which hasn’t bothered others at the table (eg many 50+ old nebbiolo). So you may be more sensitive to that sensation. But not all old wines have that feel. Someone generously shared an 89 Lynch Bage a few weeks ago that was absolutely stellar (at ‘only’ 30 years old).

Thanks for all the replies everyone. Here are some of the recent bottles I’ve tried, all were tasted in 2019 / 2020, as well as the provenance:

1979 Insignia - purchased on release and stored in a temperature controlled cellar.
1990 Sociando-Mallet - purchased on release and stored in a temperature controlled cellar.
1988 Château Pontet-Canet - purchased at 11 Madison Park
1992 Far Niente - purchased at auction
1990 Sterling Reserve (Magnum) - purchased at auction

I’ve found this to be even more prevalent amongst aged white wine, which I have stopped drinking all together (aged white) as a result. Some of the aforementioned bottles were better than others, with different flavors, but the one common characteristic amongst all of them is that the wines are very “musty” to me. I find that this mustiness dominates all other flavors and almost makes the wine unenjoyable.

I am most curious about this as I have found that my wine tastes have evolved over time. When I first started getting seriously into wine, I loved big bold Napa cabs, like Caymus. As the years have passed, I now find Caymus to be almost undrinkable chemical water, and I now strongly prefer more balanced wines or wines that are more acidic. I do wonder if I will find the same thing with aged wine as the years progress.

Given your posts, I’m not surprised that you were not thrilled with the mature Bordeaux. Bordeaux from that era - some of us might call it the era when classic Bordeaux reigned supreme - often throw a funk that can either intoxicate, or in your case, turn off. I call it the Bordeaux perfume, or part of it, along with rich deep fruit and cassis, and earth (wet or dry depending on the appellation), being the other part. Some of the funk can be brett, it certainly exists in many Bordeaux from that era, which in very slight amounts, can be part of that complex perfume. Think, the Cordier stable of wines from the 1980s, Gruaud Larose, Talbot, Meyney, Cantemerle (i.e., the “Cordier funk”). I’m really not surprised by your posts that you did not like Sociando, that’s quite the iconoclastic wine, often showing a green, herbal streak in addition to some general funk. I know Bordeaux fans that do not like this Chateau at all. I will say, however, when “on,” that 1990 Sociando can be spectacular. Comes from a more ripe vintage, offsetting some of the under-ripe, pyrazine notes that sometimes are found in Sociando. I’m surprised you have had this wine for over 25+ years without trying to see if you even liked it. Must be an interesting backstory!

I’ll defer to others on the California wine.

Unfortunately, way less interesting than expected. This was purchased on release and stored in cellar by a close family friend who really helped get me into wine. That bottle is only a handful of years younger than me!

Maybe you just don’t like aged wine. It’s not a sin and will probably save you money. Easier to buy young than going through the hassle of hunting down and purchasing aged “treasures” at retail or auction.

Stick with “young” wines, but don’t give up completely on tasting older ones when offered/available…for the sake of science. [berserker.gif]


Everyone has a different palette. Young wines have great, fresh fruit and with time that fruit fades giving different tasting characteristics. Drink em young if that’s how you like them.

I know exactly where you are coming from. I don’t have an appreciation for musty wet leaves, mushroom soup and little to no fruit either. I drink 90% of my wine before it reaches 8 years of age. I think it is natural to think there should be a direct relationship between age and complexity. Now, the leaves/mushroom/no fruit thing can certainly be someone’s definition of complexity, but not mine. Unfortunately, it seems like my itch for complexity could only be scratched by $100 cabs… which are now $250+ cabs and out of reach from a budget perspective. Try some decent Cali Bdx blends and some Syrah from the Rocks in Oregon/Walla Walla with 7-8 years of age and see what happens? I may be wrong, but a wine with complexity will show at least some of its cards at an early age, so as suggested above, try a few when they are young to guide you in your search. Cheers!

It seems that the majority of responses are saying to “just drink young wine.” I completely agree with the view that the best wines are the ones you like, but the point of this post is more to try to understand what it is that people like about aged wines. Do people that enjoy aged wines just not taste the “musty” smell I’m referring to, or do they actively enjoy it and seek it out?

It’s really hard to know what you are describing as musty. Unless someone else with experience with the wines was there, it’s hard to correlate terms.

I love the scent of (well stored) old cabernet-based wines like Napa cabs and Bordeaux. I don’t think of it as musty. More earthy to me. But most wines lose their obvious fruitiness with age, and maybe that’s what you like best. I love good old wines, but I derive a HUGE amount of pleasure from young everyday wines. So I get it if that’s your preference.

If I might offer a dissenting opinion, I find certain (by no means all!) older wines can display soaring, crystalline tertiary flavors. Sometimes this is fruity, other times this is floral (e.g. old Nebbiolo). “Mustiness” has been pretty far from my mind when I’ve had these experiences. I’ve had such experiences with old California cab (e.g. 1982 and 1984 Carmenet), old Bordeaux (e.g. 1990 Lagrange, St Julien), old Nebbiolo (e.g. 1973 Fratelli Francoli Gattinara). These experiences are out there, my hit rate is not high, but I chase them nonetheless

Mike, it’s quite probable that your palate will evolve over time - My palate shifted significantly in my mid-30s and continues to evolve. The first time I had an aged Riesling, I thought the petrol was overwhelming and tasted quite wrong. But then for days afterwards, I kept thinking about it and wanting to have that weird taste in my mouth again.

I often think about a Chang-Rae Lee story in the New Yorker a few years back about his first encounter with sea urchin. It’s a funny very different sort of Proustian memory:

Again, I don’t know what aged whites you had, or how old they were, but as a generalization, dry whites don’t last as long as reds. Many deteriorate after just a few years.

This really is an interesting post and one that hits home with many that I know. I can tell you that in my earlier days of wine drinking, I know I poured some ‘older’ wines down the drain because they simply did not meet my expectations of ‘what a wine was supposed to be like’ based on other wines that I had had. Luckily, I know I didn’t do this very often . . .

As I’ve gotten more into wine and learned more about the nuances of it, I’ve learned to appreciate the ‘uniqueness’ that older wines bring to the table. Are they always ‘bursting with fruit’? Of course not. Do they have some of the ‘sexy’ new oak notes that many find appealing? Not so much.

But what an older wine definitely tends to do is take you on a ‘singular journey’, and one that is so different than most younger wines. Nearly every older red wine that I’ve consumed - and not nearly as many as many on this board have - has started off slightly muted, with tertiary notes of mushrooms and oftentimes beef bullion. Give it time and patience, though, and it generally opens up to something so beautiful and complex. But even when older wines ‘underwhelm’, I am still awed by whatever they can offer, noting that these wines were made at a different time with a much different mindset - and techniques - of modern winemaking.


Hard to explain the seduction of mature world class wines. For me it’s often a question of balance. Bordeaux or bordeaux-blend wines develop secondary or tertiary aromas that are often dirt, earth, mushroom, forest-floor, or herbal. These should not dominate a wine, but subtly integrate themselves with the fresher, more fruit-driven aromas and flavors into a complex mosaic. Additionally, the harsher, sharper tannins present round out or fall to the bottom as some of the sediment. And the acidity begins it’s eternal yin-yang dance with the sweeter, more fruit reminiscent nuances of flavor. Finally the often overwhelming young oak notes begin to soften and round. Again, it’s all about balance and a leaning towards complexity that only comes with age. A mature, world class wine evolves in the glass…changing over time with exposure to air. I know that this all sounds like voodoo mumbo-jumbo. But every great wine should offer you varying degrees of pleasure, even at a young, undeveloped age. I would wager your palate will indeed change over time. If not, have no fear…drink what you like and let no-one deter you or demean your choice. If indeed, you decide that aged wine is not your cup of tea, rejoice. You will save lots of money.

I don’t know but it might be that the aged wines didn’t get enough air … open 5 hours in advance without decant, then decant and serve immediately and slowly … might help a bit …