Great wines are some of life’s pleasures. Enjoying wine with family and friends while celebrating good moments together is undoubtedly a great experience. However, getting the best wines is more than just buying the most expensive labels you can afford. For many wines, letting them age can be a straightforward way to improve their appearance and taste. At the same time, not every wine would benefit from wine aging, so identifying wines that can be aged is an essential skill for anyone interested in wines.
This article will discuss what aging does to wines as well as how wine characteristics change with age. There are also some guidelines and tips here on how to select wines that can be aged and how to properly age wines.
Why Does Wine Aging Occur?
Wine is more than just alcohol and fermented grape juice. It is a literal cocktail of hundreds of chemical compounds, each having varying effects on color and taste. Chemical reactions occur both during the fermentation process as well as after the wine has been bottled and stored. These reactions produce new compounds which can sometimes drastically alter the properties of the wine.
One of the most important reactions to consider is oxidation. It is generally harmful to wines, but small amounts are also necessary for wine aging. When a wine is bottled, it is still not completely isolated from the atmosphere, especially if a cork is used to seal the bottle. Minute amounts of air get into the container, causing oxidation throughout the years.
Effects Of Aging On Wine
The type of wine determines how aging proceeds. White wines are typically more sensitive to oxidation, undergoing a transition from an almost colorless state to a golden yellow. If aged for too long, the wine develops a brown color signifying over oxidation. Meanwhile, red wines shift from deep reds into a more orange hue. This transition is because many of the compounds that contribute to the intense red color are converted to less potent compounds.
Aroma also improves with aging. In general, prominent scents are mellowed out, and the different scents contributing to the smell become more integrated. The overall result is a more pleasing aroma. The same observations are felt with regards to taste as the flavor profile of the wine becomes more harmonious. Astringency and acidity are typically reduced, making the taste less harsh.
However, watch out for the presence of nutty aromas, which indicate excessive oxidation. Also, watch out for any scent or taste that seems wildly different from the overall aroma or taste profile of the wine. Presence of these deviants can indicate contamination with foreign bacteria and fungi.
Selecting Wines For Aging
Despite the common notion that wines taste better when aged, not all wines benefit from aging. Around 99% of all wines produced worldwide are meant for consumption within five years of production. Aging these wines will not improve any of their characteristics, and aging may even lead to spoilage and wastage.
However, some wines are known to reach their peak years or decades after being stored in a wine cellar. One common example is the Bordeaux, a classic red wine that is usually very astringent when young but becomes more mellow after aging.
In general, cheap wines are meant for immediate consumptions. Even many premium labels should not be aged. Make sure to have a targeted variety already, as wines that can be aged have specific requirements to produce great tasting wine. As a guideline, acidic wines with high concentrations of tannins, which contributes to astringency, are more suited to wine aging. Red wines are also more resistant to oxidation and are therefore more suited for aging than white wines.
Storing Your Wines
A good rule of thumb to follow is to store your wines using their original packaging. If you bought your wine in bottles, make sure that the cork remains sealed. If your wines are in wooden casks, do not transfer the wine. Each additional exposure to the atmosphere increases the chances of aging failure.
Keep your wine in a cool location, preferably near 55 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the aging reactions proceed at a slow and steady pace. Depending on where you live, you might need to invest in a wine cellar to maintain this temperature. While higher temperatures hasten the maturation process, the time saved is not enough to compensate for the resulting sub-par wine quality.
Store bottled wine horizontally; the wine will remain in contact with the cork, helping to preserve its size and keeping the seal intact. It is also a good idea to maintain the humidity near 80% to further prevent the cork from drying out. However, excessive humidity may accelerate mold growth and cause wine labels to deteriorate.
Finally, protect your wines from light exposure, as the light can accelerate some maturation reactions, causing your wines to deteriorate.
Follow these guidelines and be patient, so that you can enjoy your great vintage wines a few years from now.