Can a young wine earn the right to be considered a 'great wine'?

Title says it all.
Surely we can get some idea of what is may come when tasting a wine in its infancy. But, how accurate is this glimpse that we are given at such a young age? Can such an early peak provide enough context and display enough of itself to give you the confidence to know that this is indeed a great wine in your glass?

If so, what characteristics do you look for?

If not, what are your reasons for thinking otherwise?

Bonus questions:

Does your answer depend on the type of wine that you are tasting?

Does your answer depend on a given producer?



Not very, necessarily. I had a 98 Montelena Cab this past summer that was incredible. All the talk was 98 was a not a good Napa Cab vintage so I was able to acquire it on the cheap. It showed wonderfully.

Can a young wine earn the right to be considered a ‘great wine’?
I can say “this is a great wine for drinking now” or I can say “I think this will be a great wine for drinking when fully mature”.

Can such an early peak provide enough context and display enough of itself to give you the confidence to know that this is indeed a great wine in your glass?
We can make educated guesses about the future. Certainly thats why people send money to critics. And even someone like me without tons of experience can taste 2005 Mugnier Musigny or 2008 Mugneret-Ginourg Clos Vougeot and see these are clearly great wines even in youth.

If so, what characteristics do you look for?
Balance, beauty, distintiveness, a whole greater than the sum of its parts

Does your answer depend on the type of wine that you are tasting?
I don’t think so

Does your answer depend on a given producer?
Perhaps for people who have alot more experience than me might be the case. For example, I taste Grivot and frankly do not see the magic but people who have palates I respect and lots more experience say these are great wines so I concede that they likely see something I don’t.

Blame Laube and his lack of a sophisticated palate for the bashing of 1998 IMO. That was a time when I wasn’t paying too much attention to wine but I remember hearing dissenting opinions on 1998.

The 1998s were terrible young. I don’t know how they have aged.

98 was a tough vintage in Napa. So was 2000. I think people are surprised at how well some wines have done.

Ray - I don’t think a wine can be called great as it is when it’s young. I do think you can project a wine if you know that wine and have tasted it young and throughout evolution for years. That is, if someone has tasted a given wine on release for 20+ years and has followed releases throughout their evolution then yeah, I think they can make a projection about a current release. This is why I don’t like revolving critics in a region.

As Berry said, this is why we listen to the critics who have experience.

For myself, I would look for depth, density, complexity, balance. Everything that would set the wine apart from “ordinary” examples from the same region and vintage.

But for the most part I have to rely on the critics, as it is too expensive, and too much of a waste, to open a very young, potentially “great” bottle, the way prices are these days!

i can’t remember if it was here or on ebob, but i remember a group did a vertical of Bryant Family and 1998 was the winner. I took note, because 1998 is the only bottle I have of that wine.

Back to the original question… At the end of the day you are drinking the wine in the present. Obviously you can hypothesize its potential for the future; but for me, given the wine is open and in the glass, I am very interested in how does the wine present now. Have I had “great wines” that I have drunk young? yes. Most recently I would point to the Rhys Swan Terrace 2009 i posted on. But also, there are several barrel tastings I have experienced where I have felt that a wine was “great”. So my answer is yes.

The quick answer is: Absolutely. Some wines are so immediately breathtaking for what they are that they can be deemed great. Whether that means they will be great 25 years from now – well, that depends, and I think wines that we consider truly great young are perceived as such because, as great as they may be in the now, they are only offering a piece of what we sense they can become.

Before anyone makes the obvious counter-argument – that of enjoying the Muscadet by the seaside with the oysters with your beloved – yes, that is a great experience, and yes, it is fuelled in part by the wine, but I’m assuming Ray means Beethoven’s 9th wines and King Lear wines and War & Peace wines. In other words, wines that transcend your particular experience of the moment into a shared community greatness.
I get it if you cannot enjoy both kinds of wines or understand the difference, but some of us can and the debate over great and context isn’t relevant here.

And now, having said “absolutely” I’m going to qualify the hell out of my answer.

I’ve been lucky enough to taste a lot of great old, mature and young wine. Most of my posts about those tastings are hidden away on the Parker board, but I still do them from time-to-time. In my experience, there are few, if any surprising monuments amongst the classic wine regions. You may argue about the degrees of greatness – as an example, tasting 62, 67, 71 and 76 Yquem side-by-side, but there just aren’t that many wines that the collective body of knowledge didn’t notice upon release as being great that later blossom into something special.
It can happen – my personal experience, shared with at least a few board members here, the 93 Domaine d’Auvenay Chevalier at Mitch Hersh’s La Paulee – of course, the surprise was less that it was great and more that it was so great – it remains one of the finest Chevaliers I have ever had.

So, while there is certainly obvious greatness, there is also unexpected greatness. The 93 White Burgundies followed the much more overtly great 92s, and d’Auvenay Chevalier is produced in microscopic quantities. I never tasted the wine young, but it would be interesting to learn what people thought of it then. I suspect 93’s young profile was pretty unfashionable, as this was the beginning of trying to make more approachable wines. Bordeaux went through a major shift in 82 – Parker was ready for it. One major difference – 82 was perceived as less than great because it was possible to enjoy it young – 93 White Burg was perceived a less than great because the wines were difficult to enjoy young (A lot changed in 10 years!).

I also think we have become much more vintage conscious over the past decade or two, since wine publications began widely trumpeting “vintages of the century” every second issue – not that there wasn’t vintage hype in the past, but it seems to consume consumers in way it didn’t before. Because so many people seek out a simple binary “buy/don’t buy” filter via vintage reports, many less obvious great wines remain undiscovered until well after vintage furors die off. See how people are now typically more interested in 96/99 Barolo over 97/00. Or look at how many 00 Red Burgundies deliver great experiences, though perhaps in a more minor key then 99 or 02. I feel like the same thing happened with 06 and 07 Red Burgs – overshadowed by memories of 05, but when they are cellared and mature, that comparison will be mostly irrelevant, and many great wines will be revealed.

I often think we have so much information available to us that we have lost sight of how much we don’t know and how much of a wine’s development remains a mystery. My feeling is that there is the obvious great – because the wine has everything (05 La Tache), and then less obvious great – the virtues are less overt, or perhaps one characteristic demands the wine’s other characteristics compensate (03 Clos des Lambrays)…

Anyway, that’s my four cents!

On another note, 98 Napa is a stellar example of how wine fashions of the moment can obscure quality. The 97 Napa vintage was when overripe really began its fashionable run, and 98-00 promptly produced cooler vintages that led to wines of lower octane. Many 98s outlasted their 97 counterparts, and 99 was IMO, one of Parker’s worst vintage calls.

Drink some more young Mosel Riesling Ray. 2009 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Spatlese - certainly an infant, and an absolutely incredible wine that’s spectacular now (though I can only imagine what it will turn into with time).


Most 98’s are still getting better and a lot 97’s are fading. 2006 is another CA wine that lingered, panned by the public when the 2007 vintage was touted as stellar. Most of the 06’s are starting to show their stuff and it’s good stuff.

Huge +1 on this entire post

Depends on expectations. Calling a red Burgundy Grand Cru at age 0 “great” is folly, because only idiots will pay $150 a bottle for a bunch of them and drink them all young (at age 0 village Santenay is drinking better than most Grand Cru); you put them away for 20 years and they had damn well better be great THEN. Cali Cab, however, I expect to drink up by ages 5-10 in almost all cases, so I have no problem with verdicts of early greatness.

Regarding Burgundy, how do you know what greatness is without actually tasting it? Sure, critics are useful, but which is more foolish - opening bottles of $150 Burgundy for yourself to see or buying a lot of them based on what some other lucky guy is tasting on his dime or for free? Speaking as someone who has opened a lot of Burgundy young on my dime and others - I’ll take my personal leaning curve over scores and projections.

Perhaps there’s a better way to learn, but what I did was buy multiple bottles here and there of wines I liked, Burgundy and otherwise, that seemed to have all the elements of goodness, and maybe even greatness. Sometimes I was wrong, sometimes I was right. My errors cost me some $$, but what I learned seems well worth it…

Hey Ray,

Welcome back home!

I agree with those who say, if you have experience with a variety (meaning you have tasted a whole lot of X when it is young, in different vintages, and also have tasted a lot of X when it is considered aged - and even that determination may be considered controversial), you can taste a wine when it is young and project that, in your opinion, it will become a great wine. And you may be wrong, or perhaps right. Only time will tell. I have been drinking and paying attention for almost thirty years, and I do not think I have experienced a young wine and been so wowed that I knew it already was “great.” Okay, maybe once, and I, and RP, were wrong about its anticipated greatness. I guess my final answer then is, no, in my opinion a young wine cannot be a great wine, but you certainly may believe it someday will become great.

Cheers, [cheers.gif]

Of course, just think Romanee Conti and there is your answer. Has there ever not been a great young RC? Used to go to release tastings 96 to 04 and always the RC has taken my breath away. I would drink it in favour of any wine irrespective of age, no matter what the age the other wines were. Is RC better with age, I expect so, never had one, but I expect each bottle evolves slightly differently showing more individual personality as each year passes, each bottle becoming increasing unique and its own rarity with time. Does this mean every bottle is better because of age, not necessarily so, it may evolve to be lesser than its young self. I have taken RC as the example but I think it applies to any wine. Cheers Mike

Turning the question on it’s head I find it hard to imagine any great mature wine that I have tasted not being impressive young.

As a counterpoint, I think it’s nearly impossible for a CA Cab. to be “great” at 10 years or younger (I’ve yet to have one, at least).

The latest great young wine I have had was a 2010 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden LGKA. That likely will remain true for another week or so since I am supposed to bring a 2010 JJ Prum WS Auslese to a tasting next week.