Q: I have recently started collecting wine. The majority of the bottles I have purchased are for consumption in the next five years. However, I would like to start adding some...

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Q:

I have recently started collecting wine. The majority of the bottles I have purchased are for consumption in the next five years. However, I would like to start adding some cellar bottles to the collection.

I was lucky enough this Thanksgiving to have the opportunity to taste a 1981 Chateau Cheval Blanc. It was still very good, but you could tell that it was on the backside of the peak agewise. It started a discussion on whether it is better to purchase large format bottles when buying wines that you want to age.

One of the people at the table said that “if it had been a larger bottle, the wine would still be at its peak.” Is there a significant difference in how long a bottle of the same wine would age if it were in a 750ml, 1.5-, 3- or 6-liter bottle?

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Is it worth the increase in per liter cost to buy large-format bottles for quality sake, or are they just show bottles for egos?


A:

All things being equal, great wines will age longer, evolve more slowly and develop more flavor complexity in bigger bottles, specifically magnums. Of course the wine must be ageworthy to begin with, and a bigger bottle provides no certain protection against the common problems of poor shipping, improper storage or a bad cork.

Magnums (1.5-liter bottles) are the easiest large format bottles to find and cellar, and careful shopping can turn up magnums that are priced about the same as two standard size bottles of the same wine.

In larger formats (3 liters and on up), costs rise more dramatically. Most of these big bottles are made for special clients and collectors or donated to charity auctions, where they sell for big bucks. They may be displayed by the proud purchaser for a while and then re-donated to another auction to recapture the dollars, continuing the pricing spiral. If you want wines to age well and then actually be consumed (by you!) I would focus on magnums and standard 750s.

Paul Gregutt answers questions weekly in the Wine section. He can be reached by e-mail at wine@seattletimes.com.