The vast majority of wine purchased in the United States is consumed within a few days of purchase. A tiny minority of wine drinkers actually manage to “put down” wine for enjoyment later. But why buy wine if you’re not going to drink it right away? It turns out that good things that come to those who wait.
Aging wine is a difficult choice. Not all wine improves with age, and there is definitely an age beyond which each particular wine starts to decline. Keep a bottle too long, and you have a very expensive bottle of swill. The secret is making smart choices in your wine cellar.
One can typically age red wine longer than white wine. That is because most of the benefit of aging comes from the oxidation of tannins in the wine. Although all wines have tannins, red wines have significantly more tannins, therefore more benefit from aging.
Young wines have higher levels of acid and tannins that will mellow over time. That can mean that “young” wine can taste bitter, harsh or astringent.
As wine ages, the color can change. Typically, wine will mellow from deep red, or even purple, tones to adopt lighter red, or even brown/orange tinges with age.
The aroma of wine improves with age, too, as the tannins recede. Mild aromas of fruit in a young wine can mature into a rich panoply of scents with age.
That brings us to the flavor! As the tannins and acids decline, the tart or sour fruit flavors become muted, to be overtaken by softer dried fruit notes. Wine that used to have “one note” on the palate can develop complex layers of flavor, each blending seamlessly into the next. An off-putting, tongue-desiccating, dry finish gives way to a lingering, smokey finish, making you yearn for another sip.
So how long should wine be aged? Sadly, there is no trustworthy rule of thumb. A safe bet is to drink wine just as soon as it tastes good to you! Many times, we purchase multiple bottles of the same wine, intending to cellar them for a few years. Then we can open a bottle every year or so and taste the maturation year after year. Once the wine is judged “delicious” we drink our way through the remaining inventory. That way we never have to cry over spoiled wine. Using an application like CellarTracker can really help avoid disappointment, with easy reports of the wine collection by varietal and vintage.
Are you ready to cellar some wine? It’s a great way to transform less expensive wine into something really amazing, with only the investment of time. Why not give it a try!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?