Editor’s Note: As Carl continues to rest at home, we went back to our informal poll from last week to find out what wine drinkers want to know more about. This week’s winning topic is about the aging of wine. The question was asked: How long can you keep a wine before it goes bad? The answer, below, is Carl’s blog from April 7, 2020. We hope you enjoy this refresher.
The Aging of Wine
As I have mentioned a number of times in my blog over the past years, most wines sold in the U.S. are made for immediate consumption. Usually they should be consumed within 24 months after purchase. (Editor’s note: a good number of people these days will consume these wines within 24 HOURS of purchase.) Even though the wines are made to consume at an early age they still need to be kept in a good environment: below normal room temperature, and some place dry with not too much humidity.
As wine ages there is the tendency for wine flavors, aromas and colors to change. Whether the wine benefits from these changes depends on many different including personal tastes.
All of us wine lovers are familiar with the concept of aging wine. We know that some bottles improve with age. Do all aging bottles improve? No, not all improve but they all tend to undergo change. Let’s take a look at what changes in a wine as it ages.
As red wines age they become lighter in color than they were as young wines. For white wines, they get darker as they get older. Some wine experts have gone as far to say that given enough time to age that red and white wines can become the same medium amber color. I for one don’t think I would care to drink either wine at that point.
Wines have lots of categories and they come in three groups:
- Primary Flavors
- Secondary Flavors
- Tertiary Flavors
Primary flavors come from the grapes themselves as they grow. Primary flavors consist of mostly fruit notes such as black fruit, red fruit, peaches, grapefruit, etc.
Secondary flavors come from the winemaking process. The flavors produced include flavors include oak, butter, vanilla, etc. As wines age, primary flavors begin to fade and what’s called tertiary flavors begin to emerge.
Tertiary flavors include such things as leather, tobacco, dried leaves, coffee, etc. It’s a fact that as wine ages it will have fewer primary flavors and more tertiary flavors (less fruit flavor and more muted flavors).
What about Tannins?
I have talked about tannins in the past as well, but I’ll touch on them now as a reminder. Tannins are found in the skins and seeds of grapes. They have somewhat of a bitter taste and can make your mouth feel dry when drinking your wine.
Over time, as wine ages, tannins begin to soften and precipitate out of the wine and form into solids. These solids are called sediment and end up on the bottom or side of the bottle depending on how you store your wine. As tannins change and fall out of the wine, the structure of the wine becomes smoother and less harsh. I have found that there are a lot of red wines that are too tannic to enjoy early in their life and need to be laid down and aged for a number of years before they are moderated enough to drink. I should mention that both tannins and acids act as preservatives, slowing down the oxidation and slowing the flavor changing. This may cause you to cellar your wines a little longer.
Not everything changes during the aging process. Acidity, alcohol and sugar levels will remain the same throughout aging. Typically wines that are tart have high alcohol levels and those that taste sweet will remain like that throughout the life of the wine. In some cases, as the tannins diminish, their strength might seem to get stronger.
The big question is how long should a wine age? There is no cut and dried rule on the question or even an easy answer. Frankly, it depends on the taste of the wine drinker.
Personally, I like my reds to be somewhat fruity on the nose, it can be subdued from aging, but I still like fruit on the nose and palate. I like a dry and chewy mouthfeel with a finish that is as balanced as possible.
Some people like their wines to taste fresh with plenty of primary flavors. Others, like myself, will enjoy wines that some folks might find to be over-aged or too old.
I think you’ll find the hunt for the perfectly aged bottle an enjoyment and perhaps a bit irresistible. Enjoy the journey to find that perfect bottle!