Not all wines improve with age. In fact, some are best consumed the same year you purchase them. Others, like Bordeaux, can benefit from a stint in the cellar.
Red Bordeaux has enough tannin, acid and alcohol to give it serious age-ability. Modest bottlings from good vintages can hold for five to seven years; those with a pedigree only start to enter their prime after a decade.
What makes the latest string of excellent Bordeaux vintages so interesting is the nature of the tannins. They are ripe and mature. This means that, from the get-go, the wines are less bitter and astringent on the tongue and that they will only become more silken and velvety with time.
But tannin is more than texture. Tannin has flavor, too. When unripe, tannins taste of strong tea and herb. As they ripen (and this happens while the grape is still on the vine), they start to pick up a hint of cocoa, then dark chocolate.
Warm, aka "good" vintages tend to have softer more texturous tannins that track to the chocolate side of the spectrum; cooler vintages have more herbal/tea components with firm or astringent tannins.
Naturally, the tannins in wines from both warm and cool vintages will soften with age, but the core flavor profile will not disappear. If the wine is green, herbal and "astringent" in its youth, it will be green, herbal and "smooth" in its old age. The herbal edge will become less dominant, but it will never go away.
Lately, Bordeaux has been blessed with some stellar years: 2000, 2005, 2009. But 2001 was good also and 2010 is stacking up nicely, too. And nothing in between was found lacking.
Translation: Start your cellars
Here are some personal picks. As prices vary tremendously, none are quoted, but wines are listed from least expensive to most expensive within each category.
Ch. La Cardonne, Medoc AOC Cru Bourgeois Superieur
Ch. Larose-Trintaudon, Haut-Medoc AOC Cru Bourgeois Superieur
Ch. Cantemerle Haut-Medoc: AOC (5th Growth)
Ch. Carbonnieux Cru Classé des Graves
Ch. Smit-Haut-Lafitte Cru Classé des Graves
Ch. Pape Clement Cru Classé des Graves
Note: Many of the red wines of Graves are known for their distinctive hint of clove. They have a tremendous nap to their tannins (think: brushed cotton).
Ch. Prieuré Lichine (4th Growth)