By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Wine retailers frequently hear the question, “When should I drink this wine?” from customers, especially when the shopper is paying a little more than usual for what could be a finer wine.

Contrary to old-fashioned ideas about wine, the right time to drink most wines these days is “any time now.”

The great majority of wines are ready to drink when you buy them. Some of them may improve marginally if you hold them for a year or so, and many of them will maintain their drinkability.

Some very fine wines are an exception. You can enjoy them now, but they will benefit from aging, and, in fact, they need to age in order to achieve their ultimate quality. For example, assuming that the wines are well-stored:

  • You can usually count on 20 to 30 years (or more) of life from top-quality red Bordeaux wines in good years such as 2000, 2005, and 2010.

  • The best Barolos, Barbarescos, and Brunello di Montalcinos can age for 20 to 30 years in good vintages.

  • The best white Burgundies and white Bordeaux improve with 10 to 15 years of aging or more, in good vintage years.

  • Most of today’s red Burgundies, with the possible exception of the 2009 vintage, should be consumed within 10 to 15 years (the less expensive ones even earlier).

  • Dessert wines, such as Vintage Port, Sauternes, Madeira, and Tokaji, will last for decades — and in the case of Vintage Madeira, centuries.

Unless the wine you own is one of these particular types of wines, rest assured that you can drink it when you like, in the short term.