Often you may read a wine review that states the wine’s nose or palate is “closed”. Generally speaking, you’ll see this term applied to wines that are on the more expensive side (well, to me they’re expensive — we’re talking $20 and up). Reading through the review, you may also find the taster describe the wine as “young”, and suggest that it be cellared for a number of years.
A wine is described as “closed” when it is not expressing its full potential. For example, the aromas may be faint or “muted” (another geeky term), and/or the fruit flavors on the palate are overpowered by the tannins, acidity, and other preservative components. Though there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of excitement coming from the wine’s smell, or in the way it tastes, the fruit is expected to come out in full force a few years down the road. In high-brow winespeak, you would say the wine will “open up” after some aging.
Sometimes you’ll also see the term “tight” or “tightly wound” used in conjunction with “closed” — that means there’s a high concentration of fruit, tannins, acidity, and/or alcohol. Think of a tightly-wound spring — it’s all wound up and ready to burst.
So how do the wine experts know the difference between a “closed, tightly wound wine” and a wine that’s simply not good? Experience, especially with the particular wine, and knowledge of that vintage’s quality (generally measured by fruit concentration). After tasting several dozen examples of a specific wine, through its many years of maturity, a person with a gifted palate gets to know how a wine develops, and can take an educated guess whether a particular wine will one day “open up”.
If you’re not one of those people, don’t fret — start getting some experience!