Make special note of the words “SOME” and “fine” above!
How many times have you been told that wine is better with age? Whether it be directly or indirectly, there is a common misconception around wine that can be summed up as “the older the wine, the better it is.”
However, the reality of this is simply not the case. I had the pleasure of professionally reviewing 271 Wines this past year – a tough task, I know! One of the key components to my assessment of a wine, was blindly evaluating it’s age, and it’s ageing potential. When I took my WSET Level 3 Advanced Exam we had to correctly identify the age of a wine blind. Needless to say, through plenty of practice, I learned a thing or two!
The reality is, not all wines age well. Winemakers recognize that the majority of consumers are looking for something they can drink shortly after purchase, and because of that, they tend to release their wine when it is showing at it’s best, and ready to drink. Afterall, they want you to buy more!
Most wines that you pick up at your local liquor store or Supermarket are ready to drink right away, will not improve with age, but will hold their flavor with a 1-2yr shelf life if stored properly. Beyond that the wines start to break down structurally and lose their appealing fruit character.
In order to pick a wine that will have a longer shelf life, or be able to age in your cellar, it is important to understand what happens to wine as it ages.
When wines age the following rules remain universally true:
#1. Fruit Flavors Fall Away – That bright peach, cherry, or grapefruit will become more subtle, eventually disappearing altogether
#2. Savory Flavors develop – think mushroom in Pinot Noir, Tobacco and leather in Cabernet Sauvignon, meaty flavours in Syrah and Shiraz, Petrol in Riesling, Rubber in Cava, Nuts and Mushrooms in many white wines
#3. Pyrazene Flavors Stay – Pyrazenes are the chemical compounds that cause “Green Flavors” like Green Pepper and grass like flavors in wines such as Sauvignon Blanc. They occur naturally in some grape fermentations. Over time these flavors will appear to intensify as the fresh fruit flavors of a wine disappear. Green Pepper wine anyone?!
#3. White Wines Deepen in Colour – from Pale Lemon through to Brown
#4. Red Wines Lose Colour – An old red wine will become paler than a young wine as over time the tannins responsible for the wine’s color fall out. The wine will change from a true red through to garnet or brown in color
#5. Acidity Decreases – As a wine ages it slowly loses its acidity. Because of this a wine that starts out with lower acidity will probably become unbalanced over time and begin to taste ‘Flabby’ and unrefreshing. Low Acid wines like Viognier have a much shorter shelf life because of this.
So… based on this, what do you think will happen to a Dry, Med/High Acid Sauvignon Blanc that is very fruity when you sampled it at the Vineyard, with small hints of grass and green pepper?
Answer: Leave that bottle for 3 or more years and it will become gold in color, most of the fruit flavor will have disappeared, and it will turn into a bottle of flabby grass and green peppers – Yummy! If you see an old bottle of straight Sauvingnon Blanc on a store shelf… take a HARD PASS!
However, if you love a smokey, earthy, leathery red wine, you will have plenty of great options to choose from to tuck away. This however comes down largely to personal taste. Young wine will taste fruity, older wine will be savory. It is because of this that the people tend to largely prefer younger white wines for their fresh fruit character, and older reds are still a hit with a savory meal. Champagnes that have been aged for a decade or more will be savory and toasty, vs young Prosecco will be vibrant and fruity.
In short, if you like your wine youthful, or well aged it all comes down to personal taste!
Want to know if your bottle of wine in the back of your basement will last? Or what wine to pick for a special occasion 5+ years from now? Subscribe to this blog and I will let you know!