The stereotype of a wine bottle carefully ageing in someone’s collection is one we all know- but why is this seen as a key stage in so many wines? Is it just pretension, or does ageing your wine honestly make a difference to how it tastes? Louisvale Wines takes a look at why wine ageing is a thing, and when it can be used to ensure a tasty treat in the future.
An ancient art
Humans have been ageing wines since civilization began, and we have extensive documentation of wine ageing in both the Greek and Roman empires. Even the Bible makes mention of aged wines!
What’s actually going on in your wine that it tastes better older, however? Most other food products get rank as they age- why is wine different? For the most part, it comes down to the sugar profile of the vintage. That’s why low-sugar varieties don’t lend themselves to ageing, and should be drunk young.
In an acidic medium, however, and in the presence of a special thing known as phenolic compounds, there’s a reaction that continues in the bottle. In short, it’s chemistry- even if it doesn’t seem like it! Not only does this chemical reaction alter the taste in a pleasant way, it also can change the way the wine smells and tastes. It even affects the way it feels in your mouth, thanks to the hard work of your tastebuds!
You’ll notice ‘top’ or ‘primary’ notes from a wine straight away. As it ages, it develops secondary and tertiary notes that you will miss when it’s young, however. This is why the flavour profile will change over time.
Tasting with Tannins
While there’s a few things that go into ageing, perhaps the most important phenolic compounds are known as tannins. You’ll recognise these most from red wine descriptions, although white wines have tannins too, just less than reds. ageing a wine in wooden barrels will boost the tannin content over time, as well. With white wines and ageing, it’s the natural acidity that slowly mellows to produce a great taste with age. Lower acid wines typically don’t have the same improvement over time and again should be drunk young.
Tannins can preserve a wine for drinking for 4 decades, sometimes even more. When consumed fresh, they can be responsible for a sharper, bitter or astringent flavour. As they dissipate and mellow, they create the unique ‘bouquet’ we love. They also change the mouthfeel of the wine by affecting how micro-sediments in the wine arrange themselves chemically. They may even ‘throw’ sediment over time, as many deeper reds do.
Not as simple as age
Just like people, however, wines don’t simply get better over time without the right conditions! Temperature is an important factor in the process, too. As anyone who’s left an open bottle on the table overnight knows, wine can also oxidize and turn into something gross. This happens when oxygen diffuses into the wine. It becomes unstable and, instead of mellowing out, begins to break down. Being a breathable material, cork allows a trickle of air into the bottle. It’s a careful balance to achieve just the right flow of oxygen to allow ageing to take place, while never letting it seep over into oxidation. This is why you’ll still see many wines designed to be aged bottled under cork, rather than more modern alternatives. However, it can be hit-and-miss. As a natural product, not every cork is identical, and variation can be disastrous. That’s why many modern artificial corks and screw caps are trying to create a consistent ageing process through more reliable permeability.
Likewise, too much humidity can cause mould to settle in the wine. Conversely, a lack of moisture can destroy the cork- leading to oxidation once again. Cool temperatures and consistent humidity are needed for a wine to age properly. Typically this means 10 to 13 degrees Celsius. Intriguingly, red wines lose colour over time, moving from crimson to brown shades, while white wines deepen and become richer.
When done properly, an aged wine develops a fuller, smooth flavour that greatly adds to the wine-drinking experience. ageing isn’t only for high-end wines, either. Many quality wines from reliable wineries can be aged for three to five years. Chenin Blanc, oak-aged Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and many more varieties, including some unusual ones, can all be aged well.
Are you keen to know which of your favourite Louisvale Winery wines can be aged? Our experts are always happy to chat about all things wine-related with enthusiasts, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us today!