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What date do I use to time the cellaring of wine?

The question: When there is a recommendation to cellar a wine for a certain number of years, is that from the date on the bottle or when it was bottled? Those two dates can be quite far apart.

The answer: In a critic's review, usually the cellaring stopwatch starts from the time of publication …

On the other hand, some wines carry cellaring-time recommendations on the back label. In this case, the wine's release date is your start time. That's usually at least a few months (sometimes longer) before the wine reaches its various markets, so there may be some discrepancy between what you read on the label and in a critical review – even then a reviewer may disagree with what's on the label, so you'll have to make your own call about whom to trust. You're correct about the often big gap between the time grapes were harvested (the vintage date on the bottle) and the wine released. Brunello di Montalcino wines, for example, are released at least four years after the harvest date because they must, according to local law, undergo extended aging in barrel and bottle.

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Generally speaking, you should start counting from the time the bottle was released or reviewed rather than the vintage date on the label. But keep this in mind if you're ever in doubt: It's always better to open a wine too soon than too late. An immature, cellar-worthy wine should still taste impressive, if not as complex or seductive as a fully mature one; an over-the-hill bottle, on the other hand, will make you regret your patience.

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E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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