Wine aging – if it’s not good now, it likely won’t get better with time

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As this is my b-day month, I figured I would write about “aging.”  But rather than focusing on the lines on my face in the mirror, I will instead focus on how to deal with age when it comes to wine.

There is a perception out there that wines get better with age. But this is not always true. Actually, only around 2% of wines improve with age. Many wines may not improve with age, especially if they aren’t good to begin with. The intensity of the wine fades as it ages, so if the wine lacks complexity, it is better to drink in its youth.

What helps the aging process?

Generally, wines best suited for aging are red wines. This is because there is more tannin in red wines which slowly breaks down over time, revealing other flavors within the wine. Some of the most notable age-worthy reds are Bordeaux, Hermitage, and Barolo. Keep in mind that with red wines, some may be too tannic to drink right away and simply need to be aged to be more pleasant. Wine makers keep aging in mind when producing their red wines as this will enhance the wine’s quality over time and add value to the wine.

A small percentage of white wines that can be aged. However, since white wines lack the tannins that red wines use for aging, they are less likely to age well and certainly not for a very long time. White wines that are able to be aged have very high acidity. This acidity breaks down over time, performing a similar function to tannins in red wines. Some age-worthy white wines include white Burgundy and German Riesling. White wines are typically produced with the intention to be enjoyed now, without aging.

When can I drink it?

The short answer…it depends.  The types of grapes used to make the wine affects on how long the wine should be aged. Some grapes will break down faster than others. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon can age longer than say a Pinot Noir. So a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine may be able to age for at least fifteen years, whereas a Pinot Noir usually is best aged for only eight years.

The ideal time to drink a wine is when the tannins have softened, the secondary level of flavors and aromas are at their height, and before the flavor of the wine begins to fade. Almost like a second life for the wine, richer flavors and aromas such as earthy mushrooms, toasted nutty flavors or even leather notes may become more prominent in an aged red wine.

The vintage year and producer of the wine will also affect how long it should be aged. One way to make this estimate is to look at the wine notes for that wine.  If you can, ask the producer or seller of the wine when you purchase it and you can also read the opinions of other wine experts or consumers for any recommendations on ideal aging time for the wine.

Can I drink it now?

Often, the best time to drink a wine can be at several points in its aging life.  You are the best judge of when a wine is ready to drink, based on what you like. This is why it may be a good idea to purchase a few bottles of the same wine and vintage (provided you have already tasted this wine AND you like it!) so that you can open one each year to gauge its aging process and their readiness. During this process, really pay attention to the subtle aromas and flavors.  The more subtle background notes may become more prominent as they age. Then think about how that will change the way the wine tastes and if you think you will like it.  Write down your notes so you can see the changes in the wine as you try them each year.

Aging wine is a balancing act though.  One of the biggest challenges that wine collectors have is letting wine age too long. They are afraid of drinking it too soon, and instead may let it age until it has lost its flavor.  So in your own discovery of aging wines, rather than pushing the envelope, its best to err on the early side so you don’t completely miss out on the wine’s most shining moment altogether.  Use the wine maker’s recommendations as a guide when aging wine and experiment to find what you like the most!

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