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09.17.2005

The Young Wine Drinker's Conundrum

Back when I was just getting started in my own self-education in the world of wine, I had the problems that many young wine drinkers have: I didn't have much money, and I didn't know what I didn't know. Actually, I was very aware of my lack of knowledge across many areas of the wine world -- I hadn't tasted many different varietals, and certainly not from many areas of the world. One of the things that I didn't become aware of, though, until much later, was how much I had to learn about the way that wine ages -- something that I could only do much later by spending a lot for older vintages at restaurants, making friends with deep cellars, and proactively cellaring my own wines.

My friend Tom over at Fermentations has a fantastic post this week about a way to get that education about what happens in the bottle to different varietals over time. The answer: buy bottles for less than $25 at auction. Tom walks you through how to do it.

One of the things that Tom doesn't mention however, is that it's important to realize that in some cases (no pun intended) these bottles will be bad. A few will just taste bad because they are older and have lost some of the qualities that many people look for in wine: bright fruit, nice acidity, lush flavors. But some will be bad because they are spoiled or damaged or "corked."

Sometimes people buy wine at auction and find out that it's heat damaged or spoiled and then they auction it off themselves, passing the damaged wine around until it runs out or until someone opens it and doesn't know any better than to just drink it. Unfortunately these auction houses don't offer any protections against this to speak of, so you're taking your chances.

However, the risk of getting a bad bottle or three is worth the education you can get, and the money you can save in the process.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.