Matt Kramer on aging wines

“But it isn’t all personal, either. In recent years it’s become obvious that an ever greater number of wines that once absolutely required extended aging no longer do.

Simply put, most of today’s fine wines—not all, mind you—will reach a point of diminishing returns on aging after as few as five years of additional cellaring after release. Stretch that to a full 10 years of additional aging and I daresay you will have embraced fully 99 percent of all the world’s wines, never mind how renowned or expensive.”

Maybe 99% of the world’s wines. By volume, maybe 99.99%. But among wines that interest me, I think it is more like 50%. My window for American wines is release to age 12. Can some go longer? Maybe. But my definition of aging is “improving,” not an ability to last, and just because a wine still tastes good at age 30 does not mean it aged 30 years to me, especially if it peaked at age 10.

The trend he identifies has to be right, but maybe an odd source for the observation, given his lifelong love of the most ageworthy Burgundies and Barolos…

I do not know about this because so many of the second label wines taste better to me than the big brothers in these first ten years. So I guess I should just buy those then? So, I guess I am buying all these 1% wines!!!

In truth, you probably are.
Best, Jim

I don’t get what he means by fine wines here:

“Simply put, most of today’s fine wines…”

He obviously isn’t talking about 2 buck chuck (etc), so a comment on them not aging wll beyond 5 years just seems way off to me.

I have often aged under $20 reds (is that considwered fine wine?) and evne some under $10 stuff, and not once can I think of a time when it didn’t easily last (and improve) over that period and much more…

Paul – He doesn’t say they won’t age beyond five years; he says they “will reach a point of diminishing returns on aging.”

That has always been true of California cabs: They tended to plateau after some year (more than five!) and change little beyond that. I think he’s saying that that same phenomenon is now seen in European wines.

I think is point is largely correct. (His reference to the impact of green harvesting is interesting. Never thought about that.)

I got interested in wine in the early 80s, and young Bordeaux and Northern Rhones – the things I drank the most of in the early and mid-80s – tended to be very hard and ungiving young (with the exception of 82 Bordeaux). Now those wines, and even a lot of higher-end Burgundy and Barolo, can be pretty accessible young. Will these newer wines reward long, long aging in the same way wines of a couple of decades ago did? The jury is out. Judging by vintages like 82 and 90 in Bordeaux, I’m skeptical. I see the same sort of plateauing in those wines that you see in California cabs. Tasting 1990 Barolo/Barbaresco in recent years, I suspect that may be the case with those wines. They will live on, but perhaps without the tertiary evolution wines of earlier decades produced.

As always, it’s hard to follow him because he doesn’t present his points sequentially but fires off random unrelated thoughts that don’t hold together.

“wines have changed and so have our palates”

Really? I liked older Rioja yesterday but today? Nope. Hate the stuff.

Then his contention that green harvesting made all the difference and that’s why wines are different today.


What is the point of green harvesting?

Ideally, to ensure that the leaf canopy is in balance with the fruit that needs to ripen. Why is that necessary? At least in part because the canopies are not allowed to develop properly once vines are pruned and trimmed and otherwise manipulated like they are these days. Particularly if you have young vines. (Gotta manipulate the hell out of the vines to make natural wine, after all.)

In regions where regulations specify yields, it’s simply to reduce yield without any regard for whether the fruit can and/or will ripen. The key is to create artificial scarcity and ensure that the dominant local political entities have their way.

Can be for other reasons of course, like because the fruit set was bad due to weather or other issues in the spring, and that can be a very good reason for doing it.

Of course, the timing of the green harvest matters too - if you do it early on or at véraison or after véraison effects will be different.

But what matters far more is when you pick for fermentation. You can “green harvest” and then let your fruit ripen to sugar cubes or pick when it’s still vegetal and your wine will reflect that choice. You can do a lot of work at the sorting table and even while harvesting, simply by leaving the bunches that aren’t fully ripe, if any. In the end, final harvest date matters far more than green harvesting.

Then of course, handling of the wine once you pick the grapes will have a huge impact. Short maceration vs long. Cold vs warm. Punch down or pump over. Micro-ox or no. All those things make your wine more or less plush and more or less tannic and hard.

They have nothing to do with green harvesting and matter far more than green harvesting when it comes to the condition of the final wine.

Nor do they have much to do with preferring an aged wine to a younger wine, which he actually does acknowledge.

But is it really true that most wine once required aging? So the average peasant with no place to store his wine somehow was able to amass a grand cellar full of aged wonders?

I think most wine was always made to be consumed very young. “Better” wines lasted a while and rewarded aging, mostly because people harvested as early as possible to prevent crop loss and also because the handling of the grapes and the vinification was different.

The difference between today and say, 50 years ago isn’t so much green harvesting, it’s that today people charge $100 for a bottle of wine that doesn’t need any aging at all.

Plenty of wines from Spain for example, like the Chris Ringland wines, are just fine out of the chute. In CA, things like Pride or SQN ditto. Most modern CdP. Why age them? And they’re expensive, in some cases, expensive as hell. Those wines didn’t even exist before. Those are new on the scene and created to take advantage of modern understanding and techniques.

Meantime, CVNE Imperial is still a wine that will be better in 30 years than it is on release. Just like 80 years ago.

Are some wines that were once rough and tough while young now drinkable at a younger age?

Sure. But even then it is not a logical step to conclude that they are not worth aging or won’t be far better with age.

But none of that is really the point - he says “our” palates have changed and we don’t like those older wines any more.


He has merely concluded that at his age, for his palate, he no longer wants to look for wines that require much time because there is so much that doesn’t. That is fine.

Include me out.

It doesn’t mean my palate or anyone else’s palate has changed, and that the benefits of aging are somehow diminished today and that it all goes back to green harvesting. I never quite get his writing.

I think he might be going senile. His last couple of articles posted here seem just way off from reality.

he loves being edgy and provocative. Some fine wines are certainly being made softer and more approachable and some aren’t. Give him a Gouges, Chevillon, Ampeau, Lafarge or any number of other Burg producers (or even a young Corton) and see what he opines then.

I fully agree. These lines ring true and pretty much hit the crux of the matter:
But let me tell you something: With only a handful of ultratraditionalist exceptions, the modern versions of even these wines don’t require anywhere near as much aging as their forebears.
This doesn’t mean that today’s versions of these wines are lesser. Rather, it’s that fine wines have universally changed, sometimes radically so. And our tastes have changed, too.

as does this one:
My hard-won experience with aging wines has now answered to my satisfaction the question about the absolute need for long aging; namely, that the great majority of wines today, in the great majority of vintages, don’t really reward that “expensive” extra five or 10 years beyond the five or 10 years of aging you’ve already bestowed.

Living in the past with similar expectations seems to be a recipe for dissapointment…these days ‘for the most part’.

Times change, tastes evolve, ‘revolve’ and adjust. There are many reasons for these changes, but like anything else, get used to it or get out of the way. Like Tony Soprano said, “reminiscing as the lowest form of conversation”.

Or from California - Mayacamas, Dunn, Rhys, Arcadian, Ridge, etc. If anything the trend there has been towards more producers making ageworthy wines. I’ll grant that higher end Bordeaux seems to have moved in that direction. But then everyone always says Bordeaux is a minefield, right :wink: ?

Kramer always write like that… [cheers.gif]

I think as a trend he is right though with my cellar I would be starting at 10 going through to 15 and many wines I would like to leave for decades. I follow them so I think I have a fair idea on what will improve or not being stored at 10-12 Celsius. You can’t consider the ability to age without considering terroir, vintage and producer of the specific wine, green harvest does not overcome vintage variation.
In general I would be pushed to find a village or 1er red burg from the 02 vintage that was drinking better at 5 years than it is now. 07 on the other hand I am thinking these wines are probably better to drink at 5 years.

After chatting with a couple of ITB retail people in Burgundy, Nantes and Paris recently, they seem largely convinced that interest for wines requiring aging is dying within France. Not completely ofcourse, there’ll always be a small (it’s relative) percentage of ageworthy wine and devout enthusiasts. Fast food culture has arrived and taken root. French consumers want satisfaction and they want it immediately. They want to buy a bottle and pop it that night or at that moment at their table (Cave a manger), maybe they’ll hold off until the weekend. Restaurants and retailers don’t want to be burdened by maintaining cellars or deferring income by holding/accumulating inventory. That’s the snapshot I brought home. YMMV.


That’s the catch: Kramer has written about “fine” wines before, and basically it boils down to the idea that just because you like a wine does not mean it’s good. Rather, it is good if Kramer says it is.

I wonder if Matt Kramer ever had a 47 Fleurie (Gamay), or a 1981 New York State reisling, an 83 Cal Chard from Berns. Wine that isn’t supposed to age or improve beyond his very short windows, seems to do so at the venerated Tampa steakhouse. Tells me that a lot comes down to shipping conditions, storage conditions, etc. Wine can age and last well beyond his windows. A fair amount doesn’t. But then a fair amount does.

One of the points Mr. Kramer makes is that age worthy is not the same as improving. At WS, I think this is also generally reflected in their recommended drinking windows, which are usually on the younger side.

I think it a matter of personal preference.

I do see a lot of reports of trophy wines pulled out at tastings and dinners that read “1969 DRC” or “1961 Bordeaux” that say “badly corked” or “off bottle.” I don’t doubt it, but it makes me sad. Even if it wasn’t truly corked, would those bottles have been at peak song in the 80s or 90s (or even earlier)? While I love the stories of the 60 year old bottle of Villages level Pommard that is other worldly, I see an awful lot of age-pushed bottles written off as shot through. As a matter of preference, I guess it depends on what you’d like to get out of the bottles you’ve cellared.

I bought a bunch of 1999 Drouhin Chambolle Musigny. From 5-8 it was gorgeous, especially for $30. By 9 years it was heading down, at 10 it seemed tired and I guzzled them off at 11 in 2010 and their charms seemed faded. I had a similar experience with a 2002 Faiveley Mercurey. I bought a bunch and they were great, but buy the time I got to the last couple of bottles in 2011 they were both “flawed.” Maybe they really were and it was bad luck or coincidence that those were the last couple of bottles.

I like at least 10 years on my premier cru and GC Burgs and classed growth Bordeaux. California Cabs between 7-10 years. I want the tannins and wood in the background and some residual fruit (sometimes it takes more time to get there). A lot of the Bordeaux aren’t about fruit anyway and aren’t open at 10 years and more time rewards the favor.

Another point he makes is more of the traditional age worthy wines, like Bordeaux, are more approachable in youth. There is evidence to make that argument. In Bordeaux though, I still think they need time. And I’ve learned that less expensive wine often doesn’t mean they are ready any sooner.

My two cents.

Mr. Kramer is a pretty good writer and thinker on wine. I enjoy most of his articles, but they are often pretty provocative. Often insightful too.

That recent '92 Dunn Howell mountain that took 45 minutes to open up is part of that 1% boys…it’s killer

Those Rioja gran reserves that sit in oak for eternity are def. part of the 1%er club

And whoever talked me into buying the Janoueix 20 Mille bordeaux '05 holy crap…I tasted it and said(with confidence) the next one I will open will be in thirty years…sweet Jesus the tannin structure…keep an eye out for that note guys! Lol

I remember a 1975 Mayacamas (and a 1977) served a few years back at a CLONYC dinner with Greg DP (amongst others). They were magnums purchased new by some doctor on the recommendation of Sir Robert Parker. I swear these things must have been stored and sub 40 degree temps as they were as fresh as a 7 year old wine. Now, keeping this thread in mind I ask, should this anomaly be a barometer for all else produced from this winery in those years? Obviously not. They are a frozen moments made so by the cold temps while stored untouched all those years. The key to these were their youthfulness, and everyone else at the table will tell you the same. Same wines, stored differently and exchanged hands a few times and they would have been…unmemorable.

Greg T, you were there, no?