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The Ultimate Source for Wine
Collecting, Cellaring and Serving

26/04/2012
Do All Wines Age Well?

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Of course, some wines don’t improve with age, but if you’re reading this, you’re likely to appreciate the wine that does.

 

Lay to rest your reds for a mere 2-3 years and you’ll find many will have improved tremendously. Some wines even keep on improving for decades: top Bordeaux, Burgundies, Napa Cabs, Barolos and many Spanish wines fall in this category.  It’s really worth being patient with these wines and not opening them when they’re just a few years old; because if you do, they won’t be much better than ordinary wines (they could even be unpleasant). White wines can age very well too: Margaret River Chardonnays, Burgundy and Côtes-du-Rhône whites, Hunter Valley Semillon etc. However more often than not whites (and rosés) are released to be enjoyed young.

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So why do some wines age well and some not?

There are many factors which determine whether wines are capable of maturation, and how long they deserve to age. They include:

  • The grape variety and the vintage
  • The way the wine was made
  • The constituents of the wine, in particular acidity, residual sugar, tannins, alcohol and botrytis (noble rot, which concentrates the flavours of certain wines)
  • Climatic and soil conditions
  • Storage conditions

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Put simply, wine is made up of a number of natural components which interact to produce taste and smell. During storage, these components gradually break down and form new natural chemicals, which are defined by different sets of aromas and flavours.

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Old world wine making

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In traditional wine making, grapes are grown, harvested and fermented so that the resulting bottled wine can then undergo a period of beneficial ageing: to achieve this, the wine maker must obtain high levels of sugar, acid and tannins (for instance by limiting the production per vine or per acre) so that these elements can then break down, creating new aromas and a softer feel for the wine. Done with great care and experience, this produces wines with complexity (different layers of flavours and smells) and finesse. Of course, if such wines are opened too young, they’re likely to be unpleasant, too acid and unripe.

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New world wine making

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Alternatively, most wine producers from the New World (e.g. American, Australia, South Africa etc.) tend to prefer producing wines with all the various important components in the right quantity as soon as the wine has finished fermenting (or perhaps after a short period of maturation in a vat or an oak barrel). This means wines can more often than not be opened and enjoyed as soon as they are bottled: since there is no need to store it for years, New World wine generally goes straight from the producer to the merchant to your table, saving both cost and inconvenience.

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The French or the Italians would rightfully point out that a wine produced this way will never benefit from ageing, as it doesn’t start out with enough of the various taste elements to go the distance. So in storage it will never achieve a great complexity of taste, it will only become weak and would oxidise faster, creating off-odours. Fortunately, Australia, the USA, South Africa and Latin America also have wine makers who produce certain ranges meant to go the distance – which will benefit from ageing.

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If you do wish to experience the benefits of cellaring, it important to remember is that wines of different variety, style, and quality age at different rates. The trick to choosing the right wines for cellaring is to find young wines which contain all the positive components in equal proportions to start with (in other words, which have a certain balance when released), so that as the wine ages, all its components will mature at an equal rate.

Posted by The Vintec Club


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Vintec Club
The Vintec Club is the private club for owners of Vintec and Transtherm wine cellars, and the ultimate online ressource for wine enthusiasts who wish to learn more about the arts of wine collecting, cellaring and serving.
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