I fired off the following questions to some experts up here in the Washington Wine industry:
• Why do you think we see so many red wines in the market being released so “young”?
• How do you balance holding reds vs. releasing them – even if you think they may be a bit premature?
• What do you feel is the best thing to do for your customer in this regard, hold or release?
“Generally speaking the more expensive the wine, the longer one can afford to hold it before it is released. I have not noticed high end wines being released early. However, the pricepoint for your Tues night wines are typically lower and more likely to include a younger wine. Most wines are aged on the way home from the grocery store.
Our higher end wines, for the most part, are aged for a significant time and are starting to show when we release them. These wines are built to age…only beginning to show their refined side.
For our wine club members we select the wines based on what we think is our best effort.”
Long Shadows Vintners
“We have never released red wines young …in fact I intend not to release anything early as I think our wines are structured to age and even at aged release they need to be decanted to be fully enjoyed. Early release is simply a cash flow issue… no one wants to do it but they need to pay bills.”
Master of Wine / Winemaker
Betz Family Winery
Not sure there’s any consistent reason. Worst reason: cash flow. Best reason: they are bright, vibrant and best enjoyed when the wines are young.
Few wines have the luxury of maturing in the cellar until they are at their optimum. Probably Tawny Port and some Rioja reds are the main contenders. Both are the result of stylistic and cultural preferences. Every winery needs to balance physical, financial factors with sensory factors: storage space and the cost of money versus how much pleasure the consumer will get from the wines. No grand cru chateau in Bordeaux has the space to store 10-20 vintages of their reds to the point when they’re at their best. Same is true for a Washington Cabernet producer. The warehouse space would be astronomical, and the price to the consumer would be as well. It costs a lot of money to maintain a deep/long inventory.
We try to balance things: we hold our reds for a year after bottling. During that time the wines lose some of their youth and start on the march to maturity. They start to show themselves well upon release. But they are all capable of growth and development over the following 5-15 years, or more.
There’s also the issue of how consumers enjoy their wines. Some like ‘em young, some older. Who are we, as winemakers, to say the exact moment that they should enjoy our wines? They save money, and determine when they want to drink the wines if they are in their cellar.”
“I’m not sure if you are referring to a price range, but I think the “young red” thing could be more specific to a low to medium price range. This is because to save cost on producing wines in this range they may spend more time in tanks (with oak alternatives) or in older barrels. If there is no micro-ox used on the tank, wine development is very slow. I think, but don’t quote me on this one, that the oxygen pick up on wine in older barrels is less then new barrels because wood pores get “clogged”. So that’s my theory on why so many “young” wines on the market–price point is driving us to cut costs which result in younger style wines. Micro-ox is important in competing in this arena.
In the cellar, I plan our racking schedule based on the projected bottling date for the wine. So wine getting bottled sooner may be more aggressively racked (more splashing) or racked more often. Also, I manage the SO2 levels different depending upon our projected bottling. However, after bottling it’s nice to hold the wine for at least 3 months to 6 months depending upon the wine. However, that doesn’t always work if you run out of a wine in distribution. In the tasting room you can be more picky and hold wines. Unfortunately, in the real world sometimes we have been forced with larger production wines to keep our shelf space and compromise on “ideal” maturity.
The best thing for consumers to have some wines that are drink now wines and some that are buy and hold wines. The wines that are ready to go we make processing decisions from harvest to bottle that help ensure that style. The buy and hold wine (that taste good now, but will definitely get better), we educate our consumers to gain an appreciation of wine aging. The buy and hold wine can evolve to where the winery can hold and age these wine too. But that gets expensive, so this would only work if they could demand a higher price.”
“Very interesting topic. This has popped up in the tasting room a lot this summer.
I can only imagine that releasing ‘young’ wines is due to financial need. Get the product out and start selling it. There may be other winemaking reasons to do so and I am just not aware of them.
Otis Kenyon tries to hold on to wine for a full year of bottle aging time before we release it to the market. There are a few instances where we cannot do that, wine club bottlings usually only make it 6 months before being released to our members and if we speed through a vintage we will release a wine a month or two early, but no more.
While I think it benefits the customer for a winery to hold onto their wines a little longer, if a consumer likes the wine they are being poured no matter what the age, great!”