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Myth Buster

Does Wine Improve With Age?

Myth: The longer you hold on to a good bottle of wine, the better it will taste.

Facts: It seems so romantic to store a bottle of wine for decades. "I've been saving this bottle just for this occasion!" you announce, discreetly wiping dust from the label as you twist the corkscrew. Resisting the temptation to open that bottle for so long will pay off, you tell yourself. You can practically feel the oaky, berry, hint-of-chocolate taste of success on your tongue already.

Au contraire. While aging wines was fashionable 20 years ago, the truth is most of today's wines don't benefit from sitting around. Ross Outon, a contestant on the PBS reality show The Winemakers, estimates that "95 percent of the wine that's on the shelf right now is ready to drink right now."

That's the short version of his answer. His longer explanation involves acids, sugars, oxygenation, polymerization and precipitating molecules. Wine evolves, says Outon, who is also a certified specialist of wine, and all of these factors interact and change over the course of that evolution. Fortunately, all wines have a plateau — a period of time during which they are best. The duration of that plateau varies, but, he says, most producers today bottle their wines to make sure they're just right when you buy them and continue to be at their peak for a year or two (whites) or for as many as four years (reds).

If you're really intent on aging wine for longer than that, your best asset is your wine seller, who can help you identify the elusive and graceful ager. You can also turn to the Internet; Outon likes WineSpectator.com and the "Wine Advocate" website. Or, for a safer bet, try something sweet. Because of their high sugar and alcohol content, "in many, many cases, dessert wines are excellent agers," he says. "They evolve for quite some time before they fall off the other end of their evolutionary plateau and turn to brown goo."

Beth Goulart is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.

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