At what point does aging no longer benefit wine?

If a fine wine were left perfectly sealed and uncontaminated in a proper environment for several decades, with occasional turning to prevent dregs from separating (that’s a necessary procedure, right?) and all the other necessary procedures, it should improve, in theory.

But at what point does aging no longer benefit wine? At what hypothetical point does it actually harm the wine? 500 years? 1,000 years? 4,000 years?

Depends on the wine, really. Portuguese reds are best at about five years and start going downhill after that.

This is the correct response.

Many wines will be at their best within a year or two of being fermented. Some will last 10 years, a tiny number 20 or more.

I know someone who recently had a 100-year-old bottle of Chateau Margaux. He indicted it was still okay, but probably well off its best. Very few wines could hope to be drinkable for nearly that long.

See the responses above. This Wiki article has some more info on what makes for a wine that can be aged. Note that excluding port, the recommend aging tops out at 30 years. As Xema notes, most will be well below that. From the article:

Let’s move this to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator

As someone has already mentioned, it all depends on the type of wine, but no wine is meant to be aged for 50 years let alone centuries, although that doesn’t mean they won’t be drinkable. Even if someone were to get the perfect wine to cellar, the likelihood of them storing it improperly and damaging it is higher than the chance of them enjoying it at the height of its life.

No, you should not rotate wines when cellaring. The less it’s touched, the better. You want the sediments to separate from aged wines so that they can be filtered out when serving, or else you’ll get a nasty bitter taste that will ruin the nuances of the wine that took you so long to develop.

The amount of air to wine ratio in the bottle also matters. Small bottles (half bottles are called “splits”) age quicker and magnums age slower. As a rule of thumb, the really pricey wines do well with aging, and the inexpensive stuff is to be enjoyed right away.

For anyone who finds this an interesting topic, I recommend The Billionaire’s Vinegar: the Story of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine. It is a fun and true story of uncovering wine fraud, and you learn a lot about wine along the way.

As a follow-on to my prior post, I still have a couple of bottles of Portuguese reds, vintage 1986 or so. I’m almost afraid to open them, lest they leap out and go for the throat. Portugal makes some outstanding red wines, but they’re on the earthy, robust side. After 28 years, I fear that ‘earthy’ has turned to ‘dirty’ and ‘robust’ has turned to ‘fuck yo’ mama’.

I can’t decide if I am horrified or intrigued by the thought of trying your wine. Wine reviews would certainly be more interesting if more were written like this. Although it does lack the poetry of the line from the Wiki, “if a wine is aged for too long, it will start to descend into decrepitude where the fruit tastes hollow and weak.”

I found a bottle of Chateau Margaux, I think it was 1986, in my in-laws basement about 5 years ago. Not knowing them to be big wine drinkers, I asked them about it and was told it was being saved for a “special occasion”.

I told them opening a bottle of Margaux is a special occasion all by itself, and that they weren’t doing it any favors by letting it age any further.

So, we opened it. It was completely and utterly corked. It was horrible

Decrepitude, eh? That’s a good descriptive, although I’d probably say “Shambling along, unshaven and stinking, like a drunk on three-day bender.”

Very few cheap wines age well (or at all, some should be drunk when you get home from the store, or earlier if possible). Once you get to the $100’s most of the complex reds will benefit from aging, and many are undrinkable when they go on sale.

But I don’t think price is a good indicator for bottles priced between those two price points. There are $60 bottle that should be opened tomorrow and $20 bottles that should be set up for a few years.


Sounds interesting. Really, though I almost like trying bad wines as much as good ones: it’s intriguing to see, and try to smell, why wine X turned out the way it did and why wine Y turned out so much better. 1986 was a good to vintage for Left Bank Bordeaux, and not a poor one in Portugal, though no one declared a vintage that year. I doubt it’ll kill you. Storage is probably going to be the biggest wild card in how it’ll taste. Get some cheese, a decanter, some glasses and crackers and let us know how it turned out.

I feel their pain August. I absolutely detest cork as a closure, and kmowing that TCA contamination is only 2-5 percent is cold comfort as you pour '86 Margaux down the drain. Fwooshhh! There went 400 USD plus. Makes you really feel the romance of cork.

I think one of them is an '87 Garrefeira (from the Dao region), which I believe won some sort of award. The reason I’m not sure is because the labels are gone from both bottles (long story). I had some 14 cases of Portuguese wines shipped out with us when I left the embassy there. They were all wines of note, including a case of Dow 20 year-old port. Perhaps it’s best to just open these last two and see what’s what.

Don’t forget a back-up bottle of decent wine as well. If you want some alternative robustness (should plan A fail) I’d go for a good quality Primitivo or a Languedoc Granache

I took the plunge with the Carvalho, Ribeiro & Ferreira Garrafeira red from the Dao region. The cork was so soaked that I could move it with my finger. I carefully uncorked it, and the cork came apart after I got it out. I decanted it in to a juice pitcher through a wine aerator, and gave it a taste. It was a bit brutal, but not undrinkable, so I let it sit for a couple of hours. On second tasting, it was surprisingly fruity, with none of the ‘decrepitude’ I expected; almost a port consistency. Now, a few days later, it has completely mellowed and is still drinkable. I’m astounded.

The other wine is a mystery, as nothing remains of the label; I think it may be a Douro. It’s a cork closure, but the cork and bottle top are protected with a metal capping (presumably to keep air out), which I remember is a bitch to get off.

Oh, and here’s the back story on these wines.

We left Portugal in about 1994, and shipped all that wine in our household goods, labeled “books” so nobody would get their knickers in a twist. It went to our next posting, which was in west Africa. What didn’t get drunk there was shipped onward to Uganda. From there it got shipped to Alaska, where, over the next ten years, we killed off all but a few bottles and a bottle of the port . We retired and left Alaska in our RV, with the wine stored in a cooler full of ice. We spent the next five months on the road, replenishing the ice, which would, of course, melt, causing the labels to come off. We traveled climates that were hot, wet, dry and humid during that time, and finally ended up in Portland.

That this wine is drinkable after all that abuse, temperature changes, etc. is remarkable, and it makes you wonder about all the fussiness out there about storage, etc.

Interesting backstory, Chefguy. I think you just beat the wine into submission.