Last night I dined with my best friends. I had forgotten to bring a bottle of wine as I had planned, so I announced I would pull one from the hallway.
In the hallway with an average mean temperature of about 70 degrees sits a large unfinished wood piece designed for a restaurant with 8 divided areas for wine on their sides below and slots for hanging upside down wine glasses in above, an area filled with half bottles of wine, books, etc. About every two years I go through the same exercise. I take out what's gone bad since I did this last, and rearrange the wines by order of recommended consumption.
After all was done, I put a bottle of Chalk Hill 1998 Pinot Gris in the freezer thinking with its 14.9% alcohol that it might still be good. I also uprighted and sat on the counter a bottle of Caymus 1992 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I had just told them about tasting the 2006 a day ago, and how one winemaker on the panel had said it 'should be a drink at Starbucks' it was so chock full of black cherry/cocoa/coffee/coconutty deliciousness. Worth every penny.
When dinner rolled around, we found both wines to have held up remarkably well, considering. The Pinot Gris had darkened to amber, but like Judy Dench, though very mature, was still quite lovely. Beguiling aromas and flavors of toasted nuts, dried pear, hints of baking spice, burnt sugar, and a touch of fetid white flowers. Surprisingly, it paired perfectly with the kale, caramelized shallot mashed fingerling potatoes. The Caymus was a little nasty on opening, but with some air time opened up nicely to reveal layers of dried black cherry, old leather, faint cedar, damp earth and roasted meat. Tannins were practically nonexistent, making the acid a little dominant, but it was still holding together, albeit obviously past its prime. Both wines should have been consumed (with such storage conditions) about 6 or so years ago.
Due to the fact that the average American ages their wine about 20 minutes on the car seat, about 90% of all wine produced in the U.S. is meant to be consumed within 2 years of release. Approximately 8% is good for 2-4 years from release, leaving a mere 2% that is ageworthy beyond 4 years. And that's keeping the wines free from heat, light, and vibration. I store my wines under my bead. Ba-dumb-bum! But seriously folks, proper 'cellar' conditions means 55-60 degrees with about 70% humidity, so if you hold your wines in a space that's around 70-75 you have to cut that time in half. Please forget all together the two worst/popular spots for holding wine - on top of the fridge in the kitchen (heat rises) or in a display rack in your dining room with the afternoon sun beating down on it.
Which brings me to one point that often irritates me (a longlist) - What the hell are you people waiting for? A special occasion is usually the answer. Hey, any day where I come home from work to a roof over my head and can put good food and wine in my belly, that's something worth celebrating.
After having told a group once that storing your wine in the refrigerator for long periods of time wasn't good what with the humidifier drying out the cork and the vibrating and all, a woman asked me if that bottle of Dom Perignon she had in the fridge for six years would still be good. "Jeez lady" I wanted to tell her. "You've got worse problems than a bad bottle of champagne if you haven't had a reason to drink it in six years! What about your birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, New Year's, So Happy It's Thursday, for crying out loud! Anything!"
To sum up - it's better to drink a wine prematurely than posthumously. If you're doubly lucky to have friends to share it with, all the more reason to get to it! Remember, a great glass of wine elevates cheap food to gourmet standards. Be not ashamed to pair chardonnay with a Big Mac! Alas, the wine makes it seem like the world's finest sandwich!