Birthday cards, social media memes and novelty items would have us believe a wine’s greatest attribute is the ability to mature gracefully. How else could you explain a market for bedazzled T-shirts that declare: “Aged like a fine wine”? The reality of the situation, however, is less definitive – and sparkly.
The recommendation to “drink now” is a wine critic’s advice to get the most enjoyment out of the wine being reviewed. The vast majority of wine today isn’t concerned with growing old. Instead, it aspires to the “here for a good time, not a long time” credo of iconic Canadian rock band Trooper: I’m largely talking about fruity and accessibly structured wines that have been crafted to show their best upon release, including most sauvignon blancs, rosés, chardonnays, pinot noirs and blended red wines available to Canadian consumers.
While they all have the capacity to age, thanks to the preservative effects of acidity, sugar and/or tannin, they’re not likely to improve. An extreme example of this would be vibrant and refreshing white wines, such as inexpensive moscatos and sauvignon blancs, whose best attributes are their pronounced aromatics and fruit intensity. That intensity is only going to fade over time and reduce the pleasure principle of these flavourful whites.
In 2019, you’d be looking for wines bottled this year or 2018 to make the most of that youthful verve. “Drink now” also captures a small but significant selection of wines that are released after years of aging at the winery. The current LCBO Vintages release features a serious selection of mature red wines from the Rioja region of Spain. These are noteworthy reserva and gran reserva wines from older vintages, including 2009, 2007 and even a surprisingly bright and enjoyable 1998 example, that are reaching peak maturity. These premium Spanish selections and other wine styles would come with “drink now” recommendations. They’re ready for immediate consumption, but will typically hold in bottle for a period of years past the vintage date. It’s not a case of drop everything and crack open the bottle lest it turn to vinegar overnight … It’s more an educated opinion that this wine isn’t likely to mature in any further positive way. It will change, its flavours and aromas will evolve, but not necessarily in the most enjoyable manner.
Like most everything with wine appreciation, a suggestion to “drink now” is a subjective matter of taste. Most consumers prefer younger, fruitier wine over more developed styles, which tend to offer more subdued fruit aromas and flavours and potentially increased tertiary flavours, such as earthy, savoury or leafy notes. Others like the increased complexity that comes with bottle age. Only you know which styles of wine you enjoy most, so drink accordingly.