By Monte Belmonte
For the Valley Advocate


Aging wine is a lost art. It’s lost on me and I’m a self-described wine snob. I have exactly two bottles of wine in my “wine cellar.” It’s actually not a cellar at all. It’s a room off of my living room where I keep my tools and other sundry forms of clutter. But it’s where I also have a giant chest freezer and a tiny wine fridge. In that wine fridge there is currently one bottle of Champagne. The only reason I’m saving it is because it is Champagne and maybe I’ll drink it on a special occasion. More likely, one weekend I’ll realize that I have no wine in the house and drink it in desperation. Especially if the nearest wine store is already closed for the evening. I also have a magnum, or double- bottle, of Rioja. The only reason I’m saving that bottle is that my wife doesn’t drink red wine and I don’t want to make a really desperate late-night wine decision and drink that double-bottle all by myself.

There is an oft-sighted statistic that 98% of Americans drink a bottle of wine within 24-hours of purchase. That may or may not be true. According to Liz Thatch, professor of wine at Sonoma State University, 98% may be an exaggeration. Sonoma State did a survey of about 1,200 wine drinkers from across the U.S. and it seems that about half of Americans open a bottle they purchased within 2 to 3 days. But around 90% open that bottle within two weeks of purchase. So, the fact that I’ve been holding on to two bottles of wine for months puts me in the 90th percentile.

Why aren’t Americans aging wine? It could be the culture of instant gratification in which we live. Most winemakers are catering to that palate and their wines don’t need to be aged to be properly enjoyed. I’d also guess that since Millennials are having a hard time making enough money to buy a house, it’s not likely that many Millennials will be able to have enough of the resources necessary to collect and then properly store wine. So, why bother holding onto a bottle? “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” (Turns out that quote is from the Book of Mormon! The religious text. Not the musical. I thought Mormons didn’t drink. Anyway…) It’s no wonder Americans consume their bottles so quickly after purchase.

Despite being an “Xennial” (on the cusp of Generation X and the Millennial generation) and not having any older vintages of my own, I’ve recently had the opportunity to taste a few wines with some age on them. Two of them I tasted with my fellow wine snobs at State Street in Northampton. One was a 2007 Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz from Mollydooker in McLaren Vale in Australia. “Mollydooker” is Australian slang for a left-handed person. And this wine comes at you like a left-handed sucker punch. They should call it a black and blue eyed boy. One thing that is supposed to happen with wine (and people) is that they mellow with age. This Blue Eyed Boy is almost 17 years old and it still had all the fight and flavor I remember it having when I tasted it nearly two decades ago. Black and blue are the berries, too, with which this fruit bomb knocks you around. And at a whopping 16.5% alcohol, this bottle is no joke. No wonder it lost little with age.

We also opened a 2002 Finca Sandoval from Manchuela in Spain. It, too, was mostly Syrah. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, but since terroir is everything, these wines were very different. While they maintained some similarities in fruit profile, the Finca Sandoval was much more reserved and elegant with a savory mushroomy funk. Maybe if we had tried this wine 21 years ago it would’ve been too intense, more like the Mollydooker. The Wine Advocate scored it a 92 when it was released and said “it will be even better in 2 to 3 years. It should evolve for 12+ years.” It likely wasn’t designed to age for two decades but this wine still shines.

I also had the opportunity recently to try the oldest vintage I’ve ever experienced. A 1937 Rioja from Spain: Marques de Riscal Reserva. I wrote about this wine and the wine’s owner in an Advocate column back in 2021 when I spoke with Ken Washburn. Ken purchased this wine after a restaurant in Spain closed and liquidated the liquid in its cellar. In that aforementioned column, Ken offered to drink this antique with me someday. That day has now come. Ken is currently the wine buyer and general manager at the Leverett Village Coop and they offered to open this nearly 87-year-old wine with me. It was … not great.

Maybe in the 1960s or even in the 1980s this wine would have still been fantastic. Ken tried a 1948 from the same maker a decade or so ago and, even then, the Rioja held up. But this one, alas, smelled and tasted like pennies. The color remained a remarkably vibrant garnet but the penny notes made it a hard coin to swallow. We did, however, all agree that, after opening up for about half an hour, it started to smell and taste better. Ken even took it over to Provisions in Northampton so their wine people could try it. We, wine snobs, are dorks when it comes to having an experience like tasting a wine from when FDR was president. Very few of us Millennial and middle-aged wine “professionals” have anything near this old. Aging wine is a lost art, even with us wine snobs.

If you have the opportunity to taste a wine that is really old, you should. It’s very unlikely to hurt you in any way. It might be garbage. It might offend the senses. But it won’t kill you. And it will be an experience. If you have the room and the means to “lay wine down,” as people who hold onto vintages like to say, maybe it will encourage you to consult a local wine expert for advice on wines that might be pretty good if you drink them today, but could be spectacular if you are patient.

My grandmother used to say, “patience is a virtue.” My grandmother also used to drink exclusively White Zinfandel.

There is no accounting for taste. If you buy what you like this afternoon and drink it this evening, know that you are counted amongst the vast majority of wine drinkers in this country. But keep an eye out for a special bottle that calls for delayed gratification. It could make for a very special experience. A time capsule from a bygone era. If only the 1937 could’ve transported me back to the times of the New Deal instead of having to face what likely horrors we await in 2024. Perhaps I will open that bottle of Champagne I’ve been holding onto tonight. Eat, drink and be merry…