The art of aging wine has been around for a very long time, and has become widely popular in recent years. Interestingly enough, the majority of wine produced is not meant to be aged. Even wines that are aged, are not aged for very long. Around 90 percent of wines are meant to be consumed within a year of production, with 99 percent of wines within 5 years. To know whether a wine can even age revolves around factors such as variety of grape, growing conditions of grapes, vintage, wine region, and winemaking style. Conditions after bottling also affect how well a wine ages.
Wine Gets Better With Age
Wine can taste better when it ages because of chemical reactions that take place inside of the bottle. Sugars, acids, and other phenolic compounds interacting can give a wine a pleasant flavor, aroma, and color to a wine. This gives the wine drinker a pleasant sensory experience.
The most common phenolic compound, tannins, are very important in determining how a wine will taste after aging. Tannins are found in the skin, seed, and stems of the grape, actually giving wine it’s texture. Red wine drinkers will note a dried out feeling after some sips of wine. Tannins are a natural preservative, which helps a bottle of wine stay drinkable for 35 years or longer. The tannins in a young wine will taste bitter. As a wine ages, the tannins will dissipate causing the wine to create its own unique aroma, flavor, and smoothness without the bitterness of a younger wine.
Often people enjoy aging a wine for celebrations like wedding anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and other milestones.
Factors to Aging Wine
There are several factors to consider when thinking about aging wine. Each of the below factors can be individually researched in detail, but here is a quick summary of each.
Tannins– tannins are found in the skin, seed, and stems of the grapes and are what makes a wine taste dry. Although they do not have an aroma of their own, mixed with other factors, tannins affect the taste and smell of wine. Oxygen interacting with tannins can change the taste of wine for better or worse. The color of the wine is also affected by tannins.
Oxygen– oxygen interacting with tannins determines the reaction a tongue has to the wine. During the aging process, the amount of oxygen is controlled if properly stored. This is also why decanting wine and letting it breath can often help the wine taste smoother. It speeds up the process of aging the wine when you decant or aerate the wine.
Temperature– WInes are extremely sensitive to temperatures. A perfectly aged wine requires temperatures that are not too high or too low. Storing wine at too hot of a temperature speeds up the aging process and can negatively affect the smell, taste, and color of wine. A consistent temperature of 50-55 degrees is ideal for storing wine.
Humidity– Consistent humidity is important. If the storage area is too dry, corks can dry out, allowing air into the bottle spoiling the wine. On the flip side, damp conditions can promote mold. A properly sealed bottle will keep the contents inside safe, but could damage labels on prized bottles of wine. Humidity anywhere from 50-80 percent is safe for wine, but keeping the level at 70 percent is best.
Sugar– Of course there is sugar in wine. Chemical reactions involving sugar, acids and tannins directly affect the smell, taste, feel, and color of the wine. The amount of sugar in wine also determines the amount of alcohol content in the wine. Sweet wines such as Port, Sherry, and Rieslings are some of the best wines to age.
Alcohol– Typically, the alcohol level in wine is low. Red wine or dry white are wines that have low alcohol content and taste better with aging.
Acidity– Acidity is also an important consideration when aging wine. If the acidity, tannins, and sugars are all balanced, then the wine is a good one to age. Wines with higher levels of acidity last longer than those with low acid levels.
Best Wines to Age
White wines and red wines both contain tannins, but red wines have a great deal more. Red wines with high acidity and high tannins are great to age for a few years. If you are looking to try out the process of aging wine, start out with a few of these types of wines:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
Be sure to store the wine in a temperature controlled cellar, or a cool and dark location in the house that does not get sunlight or vibrations. Click here for more information about storing wine.
How Long To Age Wine
The amount of time wine should age for is different for each vintage. An easy to to find out how long your specific bottle should age for is by using an app like Cellartracker, which will help you determine the yearly window a bottle should be best to drink it in.
Wines Not To Age
Not all wines on the shelf are good for aging. In fact, aging some wines can actually make them go bad. It is a good idea to choose wines that were fermented for the purpose of aging. Keep in mind that your everyday red wines have around a 5 year life span. Rose’ and white wines have a 2-3 year life span.
If you are looking to make your wine taste the best it can, aging is not always the answer. But for the wines listed above, typically red wine, aging the wine will definitely help add better texture, smoothness and flavors you otherwise wouldn’t get from the wine. It is just sometimes hard to stay patient and leave the wine alone in storage for several years!
How To Tell If Wine Has Gone Bad
There are several clues to know if a bottle of wine has gone bad (also called “corked”). The first clue is if the cork has been slightly pushed out of the bottle. That doesn’t necessarily mean the wine has gone bad, but it’s often a sign that it has. The easiest way to tell if the bottle has gone bad is if the wine smells and tastes like vinegar. Another clue of wine going bad is if the wine looks cloudy in appearance.