Washington wines have great aging potential because of their ability to retain acidity and also balance flavor and tannin.

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A WELL-AGED wine is a time capsule.

A great bottle captures a season during which many toiled to grow and harvest grapes. It holds the results of winemakers’ talents, hopes and hard work.

It also reminds us of what we were doing when those grapes were picked. Was it the year our child was born? When we graduated from high school? When we quit that lousy job to chase a dream?

To drink or cellar?

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 Artist Series, Columbia Valley, $60: The 20th anniversary of what is arguably winemaker Bob Bertheau’s finest effort features artwork of Dale Chihuly (as it did on the inaugural 1993 bottle). It’s a cab-heavy blend with aromas and flavors of roasted coffee, elegant black cherry and complex spices. This should easily age gracefully for a couple of decades.

A well-aged wine can be a nostalgic stroll through a web of memories. And if that wine has held up through the years, it can provide a whole new set of happiness we won’t soon forget.

Which begs the question: How well do Washington wines age? We put that to the test with our quarterly Seattle Times reader wine tasting panel. About 30 of us gathered in late May at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, where head winemaker Bob Bertheau proudly opened six bottles of the top-shelf Artist Series Meritage from a 20-year span.

Joining us was Doug Charles, owner of Compass Wines in Anacortes and an expert on the value and quality of aged wines. He told the group that Washington wines have great aging potential because of their ability to retain all-important acidity and also balance flavor and tannin.

We put this to the test with the six bottles Bertheau opened, starting with the 1996 edition of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Bordeaux-style blend (made by Mike Januik). It was delicious and still youthful while showing fascinating aromas and flavors that can be coaxed only from an older bottle of wine.

We progressed through five other vintages, the 2000, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012 (which is just now being released). Interestingly, our reader panel seemed to enjoy the three older wines over the three newer ones.

Charles, who has an amazing collection of older wines, shared two Chateau Ste. Michelle cabernet sauvignons from his cellar: the 1974 and 1983. Both were fascinating to taste.

But the star of the evening came from reader Ellen Duernberger, who brought a 1.5-liter bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s rare 1980 reserve cabernet sauvignon from famed Cold Creek Vineyard. She had been storing it in her basement for nearly 25 years, and it was nothing short of stunning.

Washington wines that are balanced and delicious in their youth likely will be able to age easily for a decade and might well continue to fare well for 35 years or more, as our panel discovered.

Now we have new memories to hold and to share.