Aging is an intricate and crucial part of the winemaking process. To an extent, all wines are aged before they are released. Most wines sold in America are sold with the intention of immediate consumption. However, many wine lovers prefer to store bottles of wine for a while to allow their taste to evolve. This process is known as “laying wine down.”
To appreciate the full benefits of this, you need to understand what really happens as wine ages, the science behind it, and how it enhances the taste of the wine.
What Happens to Wine as It Ages?
In young wines, we can easily distinguish between their primary and secondary aromas. Examples of primary aromas in wines include tasting the plum in Merlot, citrus in Riesling, and the grassiness in Sauvignon Blanc. Secondary aromas refer to notes associated with winemaking techniques. The taste of vanilla from oak casks is an example of a secondary wine flavor. Aging wine is done to develop a wine’s tertiary aroma.
Tertiary aromas or notes arise from the wine’s development. For example, the bold fruity taste of a young wine becomes subdued and tastes more like dried fruit as the wine ages. Aging brings out more of the aroma that may have been hidden or overpowered by a younger wine’s primary aroma. Tertiary aromas that emerge from aging include notes of herbs, hay, earth, honey, mushrooms, and even stone.
Acids and alcohols react to form new compounds as wine ages. Compounds that dissolve combine to create something new. These processes are constantly ongoing at various rates and speeds. Whenever you open a bottle of wine, you access it at a different stage of its development process. Every bottle provides new aromas and nuances to taste. This is how wine ages and why its aromas keep changing and developing.
The aging process also affects the texture of wine. Aged, dry white wine can develop an oily and viscous texture, while red wines tend to become smoother as they age.
Over time, phenolic compounds, like tannins, become sediment. Phenolic compounds repel each other in young wines and are small enough to stay suspended in the liquid. They slowly lose their charge, combine and become heavier as the wine ages. Once they reach a certain size, they sink to the bottom of the bottle. These changes in phenolic compounds also change the texture of a wine.
The color of a wine is another attribute that changes as it ages and is the most pronounced indication of a wine’s age. Red wines tend to lose color as they get older. They fade from a vibrant ruby red to a browner shade that resembles tanned leather. White wines become more colorful. Young white wine is a pale yellow that almost looks like lemonade. Older white wines develop a gold hue and develop further into amber. When searching for the best-aged wines, look for browner shades in red wine and gold-white wines.
Young red wines are opaque when held against a white background. Older red wines show light colors around their edges. This is referred to as the “rim.” Oxidation causes these changes in color and opacity. The amount of air remaining in the bottleneck after the bottle is sealed determines the oxidation rate. Bottles sealed with natural corks allow minimal oxygen exchange, which is why most wines that are considered well-aged are unopened, corked bottles.
Does Wine Age in the Bottle?
Wines do age in the bottle. After the initial fermentation, the wine’s evolution and development continue. This cycle only stops once the cork is popped or the bottle is opened.
Once the wine is exposed to oxygen, oxygenation occurs. Oxygenation reduces mouthfeel and causes flat-tasting wine. Even microscopic amounts of oxygen introduced to wine through its cork can cause it to alter slowly. Slow oxygenation can introduce new interesting characteristics and changes in the wine-tasting experience.
Oxygenation is one of many factors that influence the aging of wine in bottles. Another important factor is storage temperature. Bottled wine can spoil if stored in temperatures that are too high or too cold. The ideal temperature for most wines is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do All Wines Get Better With Age?
Only a few types of wine benefit from aging — approximately 1% of wine is actually viable for long-term aging. Most wines on the market are aged enough and made to be enjoyed right away. A small handful of varieties will taste better after more aging.
Here are some red wines that generally age well:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
White wines that age well include Riesling, Arinto and Chardonnay.
One of the best wines to age is port. Port is a sweet, full-bodied red wine capable of aging for decades if stored properly. In England, giving port as a christening gift was an old tradition. The idea was that the port would age for 20 years and become a delicious and special drink shared with the child when they reached the drinking age.
Several factors influence a wine’s age-worthiness, including the following:
- Sugar content: The higher the sugar content, the more age-worthy a wine is deemed to be. Desert wines and ports contain almost 10 times more sugar than a Cabernet Sauvignon and can be aged for hundreds of years.
- Fortification: A fortified wine has distilled spirit added to it. The higher alcohol levels of fortified wines make them unstable. Non-fortified wines can age better because of their lower alcohol content.
- Acidity: Non-fortified wines are made more acidic to give them extra protection against ethanol molecules. The more acidic a wine is, the better it will age in a cellar for long periods.
Enjoy Aged Wines From Marketview Liquor
Knowing why wine ages will give you insights into appreciating the changes and qualities of a well-aged wine. The more you understand about wine, the easier it becomes to refine your palate and find your favorites. The art of wine tasting is a skill that can be practiced with experience and knowledge. Now that you know how wine ages, you can start looking for your next bottle to enjoy.
Marketview Liquor is a place where wine is appreciated and respected. We carry an extensive range of wines you can enjoy immediately or lay down and let them age. You can find the wines you want on our online store today.