Good wines need some time to integrate and evolve in the bottle before they are ready to drink. Too young and the wine may be tannic and compact. Too old and the fruit will have wilted and the wine will lose its flavor. Each wine has an optimal period when it is likely to be at the peak of ripeness and therefore ideal for drinking.
Opening a bottle at the right age means that the tannin structure of the wine has softened, while retaining the freshness and concentration of fruit. This proper age is referred to as 'drinking window' and usually covers a period of several years.
Predicting the best time to drink a particular wine is not an exact science. Predicting the longevity of a wine depends heavily on knowledge of its style, grape variety, region, maker and vintage. Also, the wine may have a track record worth considering. Therefore experts will differ in their estimates of the optimal drinking time.
If the wine is in its best age (in its drinking window), it will say 'drink now'. This does not mean that the wine should be drunk immediately, but rather that the expectation is that the wine will not improve with additional bottle aging and will be most delicious when it still has its youthful flavors and structure. Even the most accessible wines will usually provide pleasure for several years after the harvest date.
So the drinking window is not set in stone, but it is a useful guide when buying or storing wine. It would be a shame to invest in a great wine and leave it in the cellar for too long, only to find it has had its best days.
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