We’ve all heard that old saying that wine gets better with age, haven’t we? But let’s get real: does that statement hold up in the real world?
Well, here’s the deal – in most cases, wine does indeed get better as it ages.
However, there’s a significant difference between the way winemakers age wine in barrels before it’s bottled and how a regular wine enthusiast ages bottles at home. In fact, not all wines are meant to be aged; it works for some wines but is disastrous for others.
Today, we’re going to explore all of that.
Table of Contents
Does Wine Age in the Bottle?
Yes, wine does age in the bottle. But wine aging in bottles varies. Not all wines improve with time; some are best when young. Fine wines like some Bordeaux bottles can get better with age, but others should be enjoyed sooner. Older wines are not always better.
Once a wine reaches its peak, it starts to decline, even if stored perfectly in a wine cellar. To enjoy the rewards of aging wine, think of it as selecting books. Some wines are like timeless classics, and others are like popular novels.
Choose the right wines to age, much as you’d choose a book to revisit over time. That way, you can experience the wine getting better, similar to a beloved story becoming more interesting with each reading. (1)
Red Wines That Get Better With Age
Some red wines get better over time, becoming complex and refined. They change, with their flavors, scents, and textures blending together. Among the notable options are Bordeaux wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blends.
Bordeaux’s tannic structure and depth of flavor develop over time, revealing layers of cassis, leather, and cedar notes.
Pinot Noir from Burgundy is another prime example. Initially delicate, these wines gain depth, displaying earthy nuances, red fruit richness, and a silky texture.
Nebbiolo-based wines from Italy’s Piedmont region, such as Barolo, are renowned for their longevity. With age, they acquire subtlety, showcasing rose petal, tar, and truffle aromas.
Syrah-based wines, especially those from the Northern Rhône, like Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie, benefit from aging, unveiling black fruit, smoked meat, and spicy complexities.
Super Tuscans, like Sassicaia and Ornellaia, Rioja Gran Reserva, Barossa Valley Shiraz, heritage Zinfandel from California, and Burgundy’s Grand Cru wines, such as those from Gevrey-Chambertin or Chambolle-Musigny, are all examples of reds that reward patience and become treasures for collectors and connoisseurs who appreciate the beauty of older wine.
White Wines That Get Better With Age
While white wines are usually enjoyed when young and fresh, some, like German Riesling Auslese or Bordeaux Sauternes, can age gracefully, gaining complexity with honeyed notes.
Chardonnay from Burgundy or California becomes richer and more buttery over time.
Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley also age well, revealing various flavors.
Vintage Champagnes, made from exceptional harvests, can evolve and develop more complexity over the years. Find out how to store them properly here.
However, it’s important to know the specific white wine and its aging potential, as not all whites improve with age.
Why Does Wine Get Better With Age
The fascinating improvement when wine ages comes from complex chemical reactions that take place in the bottle. Tannins and acidity are key players, particularly in red wines. Tannins, which can be harsh in youth, mellow over time, creating a smoother texture, while acidity acts as a preservative, preventing rapid deterioration.
Aroma compounds also undergo a significant transformation when wine ages. Youthful fruity notes mature into more intricate scents like leather, tobacco, or earthy hints, enhancing the wine’s overall aroma.
Oxygen exposure, when controlled, aids in softening tannins and harmonizing flavors. However, excessive exposure is harmful.
Proper storage conditions are key, including the right temperature, humidity, protection from light. These conditions ensure wines age gracefully and avoid premature spoilage. Keeping wine in a wine cooler or a well-constructed wine cellar helps preserve its aging potential.
Finally, the inherent quality and aging potential of the wine itself are critical. Not all wines are suitable for aging; it’s essential to select those with the right structure, acidity, and complexity for long-term aging.
For How Long to Age Wine
Aging wine is a delicate balancing act, and the decision of how long to age a particular bottle depends on various factors. First things first, the type of wine plays a significant role.
Some wines, like fine Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, have the structure and tannins to benefit from extended aging, often improving for decades. In contrast, lighter wines such as Sauvignon Blanc or most rosés are meant for early consumption, so aging them won’t enhance their qualities.
The wine’s vintage matters as well. Not all years are created equal, and the overall quality of the harvest can impact a wine’s aging potential. And of course, individual preferences play a role. Some people enjoy the vibrant, fruity characteristics of younger wines, while others prefer the complexities that develop over time.
Ultimately, the decision of how long to age a wine is a matter of personal taste. It’s essential to research the specific wine, its vintage, and the recommendations of experts, but experimenting and discovering your preferences can be part of the joy of wine appreciation.
How Does a Properly Aged Wine Taste
Properly aged wine offers a delightful taste experience. With time, it undergoes notable changes. The fruit character shifts from youthful and vibrant to subtler, dried fruit nuances. For example, a young wine full of blackberry and cherry flavors may evolve into dried plum or fig notes.
Tannins, which can be a bit harsh in young wines, soften over time, creating a smoother, silkier texture that enhances the wine’s balance and elegance. Aromas transform, with primary fruit scents giving way to more complex notes like leather, tobacco, earth, or spices, adding layers to the bouquet.
As the wine ages, its natural acidity becomes smoother and more delicate. Overall, the texture of a properly aged wine becomes more harmonious and refined, making it a joy to savor.
Wines That Are Not Suitable for Aging
While the allure of aged wine is undeniable, it’s important to acknowledge that not all wines are suitable for long-term aging.
Some wines are meant to be enjoyed in their youthful vibrancy and may even deteriorate when stored for extended periods. Understanding which wines are not suitable for aging is essential to avoid disappointment and spoilage.
Light, Fresh Whites: Varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and many young Chardonnays are best consumed when they are young. These wines are prized for their crisp acidity and vibrant fruit flavors, which can diminish over time, leaving you with a less enjoyable experience.
Delicate Rosé Wines: Most rosé wines are crafted to be refreshing and fruity when young. Aging them typically does not enhance their qualities and can result in faded, unappealing flavors.
Entry-Level Reds: Entry-level red wines, often characterized by their straightforward fruitiness and lack of aging potential, are better suited for immediate enjoyment. These wines may not develop complexity with time.
Wines Lacking Structure: Wines with insufficient tannins, acidity, or depth may not withstand aging. Without the necessary components for transformation and preservation, they can become flat or unbalanced over time.
Semi-Sparkling Wines: Wines with a slight effervescence, like many Moscato or Lambrusco varieties, are intended to be enjoyed for their fresh, fizzy nature. Attempting to age them can result in the loss of their unique charm.
Fortified Dessert Wines: Sweet fortified wines like Port or Sherry are often already aged and fortified with spirits. Additional aging can sometimes alter their intended flavor profile of the fortified wine, making it important to assess whether further aging is necessary or beneficial.
Simple Table Wines: Everyday, easy-drinking wines, typically enjoyed for their approachability, are not designed for long-term aging. An additional aging process may not significantly improve their characteristics.
Beaujolais Nouveau: It is famous for being a red wine that should be enjoyed shortly after its release to savor its fruity and lively character.
Well, wine lovers, now we know the answer: wine does get better with age. But, that doesn’t work for all wines, sadly.
The outcome depends on factors like the winemaking process, the wine’s type, and its intended aging potential. And, of course, proper wine storage is absolutely essential. Without it, you can’t be sure that even if you have an amazing aged, let’s say, Burgundy, that the same wine won’t have turned to vinegar all due to improper storage conditions.
In simple terms, doing your homework is the secret to getting the most joy out of your wine aging adventures. And it’s well worth it because there’s truly nothing quite like the pleasure of sipping a well-aged wine.
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