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Bad Wine versus Young Wine

Anyone know the difference between a young wine that will mature into a good wine versus a wine that is just bad?

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  1. Wines that will mature or improve in the bottle will never taste "bad" to begin with. They may seem disjointed, with one component (ie., the oaky flavor, or the tannins or acid level) being very prominent, but they won't taste bad. The most likely descpriptor of a wine that will get better in bottle is "tight." While that is not a very specific term, it is usually apt.

    If you've tasted something that you didn't like, and been told that it will get better, I wouldn't buy it. If you don't like it now, you will not like it later.

    2 Replies
    1. re: monday

      I totally disagree. wines that are made for long aging sometimes taste really, really bad when they're first released, or in barrel samples. Years ago I went to a tasting of a bunch of the best Rhones from a great vintage and the reds tasted simply awful. Ten years later they were delicious.

      Trained people at the same tasting were discussing their potential, but I couldn't tell them apart.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I agree with you that on wines for aging often tasting bad when young and will blossom many years later in the cellar. But I'll also mention that that rare, very great wines that have just about perfect balance show that breeding and delicious personality when they're immature and it can be hard to not drink them too young.

    2. I agree with the above response. Tight, closed, out of balance, dumb... they all mean the same thing, which is basically that the parts are better than the whole. Good Aussie Shiraz is a prime example. For the first 3-5 years they are generally rich and jammy. Then, most go "dumb" or unbalanced for a period of 2-5 years. Then they come back to life and are spectacular. I (and my sommelier friends) have not figured this one out, but that's the way it is.

      1. Good advice above. My only quibble is with equating the word "dumb" with "unbalanced".

        As noted, "dumb"ness will be resolved with age. "Unbalanced" is a permanent condition, such as too much alcohol or tannin or sweetness or acid, or not enough of any of those.

        "Dumb" is when a wine is shut down, it actually has less flavor for a time. It's closely related to "closed". Perhaps you meant "awkward", which is temporary before the components resolve themselves into a harmonious whole?

        Okay, I have another quibble. It is possible for some wines to taste pretty bad in their youth but turn out good. See descriptions of "reduction", which is when the wine is made without much oxygen present. It can taste rubbery, seriously rubbery, like a Goodyear tire, and stay that way for many years only to finally reach maturity and taste great.

        Another example of bad turning into good. "Bottle stench". There are certain smells associated with the winemaking process that you might notice in a young wine soon after pulling the cork. The next day, or maybe only an hour later, it's gone - "blown off" - and the wine tastes fine. This can sometimes be confused with corkiness.

        Another example - sulphur. S02 is a natural byproduct of winemaking but is also used as a preservative. Sometimes, especially in a difficult vintage when the winemaker was not sure the wine would survive, there's a distinct sulphur smell. This may dissipate shortly, or after a number of years in bottle, or it may outlive the wine.

        So, back to the original question, how do you tell? Experience. Taste with people who know more than you do. That helps if you haven't bought it yet.

        If you have doubts about a wine from your cellar, put the cork back in, stick it in the fridge and try it again tomorrow. Or if it smells like rubber (reduced), I've seen this work, give it a vigorous shaking to get some oxygen in - et voila.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Chris Weber

          Your rubbery analogy is the first descriptive of this that I've encountered. Is the evolution into a good/great wine more prevalent in old world vs new world wines? If so in new world wines, could you provide a few examples? Really like your analysis and would appreciate further input.

          1. re: PolarBear

            There is a "new world style" and an "old world style". More or less, and it doesn't really matter where the wines are made, you can do either almost anywhere (climate has a say in that of course).

            One of the differences in the 2 styles is that - again this is a huge generalization that doesn't apply to even close to everybody - "new world style" are made to drink younger than "old world style". That difference can affect how a wine shows even on day one.

            A big difference between many new world wineries (as opposed to wines) and old world wineries is that the new world guys are much more clued in on marketing. A big reason why France is getting its tail kicked in the marketplace these days by Australia, et.al.

            So, for example, Jordan is a California brand that was designed to be totally sold at restaurants. It's ready to drink on day 1 and it won't (ok, shouldn't) have the type of things going on that we're attributing to young wines in this thread. They accomplish this with the way they make the wine.

            It probably won't get much better with aging either.

            One thing that might be more common in new world wineries than old, but the differences are blurring over time, is that new world guys use the technology. Hey, they haven't been at it as long; they didn't inherit the land from their great grandfather. This can mean they make cleaner, more "correct" wines than a traditional guy in Spain, for example, who's making rustic wines.

            The new world guy in this case is going to do his best to make his wine palatable early, avoiding the issues cited above. He wants people to taste it on day 1 and like it. The traditional guy figures his customers are going to hold it and be okay with it when they drink it in 10-15 years.

            That example is another oversimplification, especially since Spain is changing faster right now than any other region in the world. You're a lot less likely to find a guy using his grandfather's barrels today in Spain than you were 10 years ago.

            1. re: Chris Weber

              Ok, one more. "Bottle shock". This is not commonly encountered by consumers, or at least not recognized as bottle shock, but more often the trade see this temporary phenomenon.

              Bottle shock happens when wine is bottled - it gets stirred up quite a bit, which causes it to taste less good for a period of time, up to a number of months.

              This is similar to the affect that racking the new wine has during the winemaking process. Racking is when the wine is drawn off its lees (sediment, spent skins, yeast, and other solid matter in the bottom of the cuve) into a new container.

              It is also similar to the shock of traveling. When you put a container of wine on a ship to sail across the Atlantic, for example, it gets shaken up quite a bit and may take many months to recover upon landfall in the States. My ex-wife, who used to work for a wine importer, told me a story of two wines served blind to the staff of her company that tasted completely different. They were in fact the same wine, but one had been stateside for a year and the other only recently arrived.

          2. re: Chris Weber

            I really could have used your post a few years back, when I was searching for a general explanation for very nasty aromas coming out of some bottles, but 'blowing off' rather quickly (sometimes witin 30 minutes or so). I couldn't find anyone who could give it a name, but I knew it happened (most often, for me, with Chianti). I finally found a wine geek, in England, via a wine board, who called it "bottle funk". Bottle funk = bottle stench.

          3. All replies above are good calls, imo.

            I just wanted to add in a bit about tannins. It is possible that you are really averse to tannic wines. Heavy tannins in a young wine can make it taste astringent, but heavy tannins in an otherwise balanced wine often smooth out and preserve fruit for many years. That is to say, tannins can make a young wine taste bitter-y, but can be an important component of age-worthy-ness.

            It will always be a tough call. On the other hand, I am guessing that you don't have a ton of bottles in a cellar aging away (neither do I), so you can probably pick and choose those you want to lay down based on reviews and reputation and not worry too much about it. The flip side is, if it is a relatively inexpensive bottle (say under $20) that tastes bad to you early, don't bother waiting (or don't go out of your way to age it).