Wine connoisseurs frequently argue over whether or not wine ages in the bottle.
Most wines should be enjoyed within a few years of bottling, according to some, while others believe that maturing wine in the bottle is required to bring out its greatest flavors and aromas. Wine therefore ages in the bottle?
Wine does age in the bottle, but not all wines are meant to be aged, according to experts. In actuality, very few wines have the potential to get better with age. Numerous elements, including the type of grapes used, the winemaking procedure, and storage conditions, have an impact on the aging process. High-tannin, high-acid, high-sugar wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Riesling are more likely to get better with age.
The majority of wines, nevertheless, are created to be drunk shortly after they are bottled. Most of these wines have a price tag of $40 or less with a “drink now” or “best consumed by” date.
These wines may not necessarily taste or smell better after being aged, and in some situations, it may even make them spoil. Knowing which wines are good for aging and which ones need to be drunk right away is crucial.
Understanding Wine Aging
Wine aging is a complex process that involves several factors. The aging process can significantly impact the quality of the wine, making it either better or worse. Wine aging can occur in both barrels and bottles, but the extent of the aging process depends on various factors, including the type of grape, storage conditions, and winemaking techniques.
Long-term aging is a process that involves cellaring wine for several years. Cellaring wine involves storing wine bottles in a temperature-controlled environment, usually between 55-65°F, with a relative humidity of 60-80%. The temperature and humidity levels are crucial because they can significantly affect the aging process. Improper storage conditions can lower a wine’s lifespan by up to 75%.
Not all wines are age-worthy. Some wines are meant to be consumed within a few years of their release, while others can be cellared for decades. Age-worthy wines are typically high-quality wines that have a good balance of acidity, tannins, and fruit flavors. These wines have the potential to develop complex aromas and flavors as they age. Old vintages of these wines can be highly sought after by wine collectors and enthusiasts.
The aging process can also have negative effects on wine. Not all wines are suitable for long-term aging, and aging can ruin many wines. The aging process can cause the wine to lose its fruit flavors and aromas, making it taste flat and dull. It can also cause the wine to develop unpleasant aromas and flavors, such as a musty or moldy smell.
Bottle Aging Vs. Winery Aging
One of the most debated topics in the wine industry is whether wine ages better in the bottle or in the winery.
Bottle aging refers to the process of aging wine in the bottle after it has been bottled. During this process, the wine continues to evolve and develop its flavor and aroma profile. The aging process can take anywhere from a few months to several decades, depending on the wine’s quality, grape variety, and storage conditions.
Bottle aging is a popular practice among wine collectors and enthusiasts who believe that aging wine in the bottle can enhance its flavor and aroma profile. However, not all wines are suitable for bottle aging, and some may even deteriorate over time.
Winery aging, on the other hand, refers to the process of aging wine in the winery before it is bottled. During this process, the wine is stored in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks, allowing it to develop its flavor and aroma profile.
Winery aging is a common practice among winemakers who use it to enhance the wine’s quality and complexity. The aging process can take anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the winemaker’s preference and the wine’s grape variety.
Which is Better?
There is no clear answer to whether bottle aging or winery aging is better. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice depends on the wine’s quality, grape variety, and storage conditions.
Some wines are best consumed young, while others can benefit from bottle aging or winery aging. For example, red wines with high tannins and acidity levels are typically suitable for bottle aging, while white wines are best consumed young.
The Role of Tannins and Acids
Tannins and acids play a crucial role in the aging process of wine. Tannins are natural compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems.
They are responsible for the astringency and bitterness in wine and also contribute to its structure and texture. Acids, on the other hand, give the wine its tartness and crispness and help to balance its flavors.
The level of tannins and acids in a wine can affect its aging potential. Wines with high levels of tannins and acids are better candidates for aging, as these compounds act as preservatives and slow down the oxidation process. This is why red wines, which typically have higher tannin levels than white wines, are often aged for longer periods of time.
The balance between tannins and acids is also important for the aging process. If a wine has too much tannin and not enough acidity, it may become overly astringent and unbalanced over time. Similarly, if a wine has too much acidity and not enough tannin, it may lose its structure and become flat.
Winemakers can also influence the levels of tannins and acids in wine through their winemaking techniques. For example, oak aging can add tannins to wine, while malolactic fermentation can reduce its acidity.
The Influence of Cork and Air
When it comes to aging wine, the cork closure plays a significant role in the process. Corks are specifically designed to keep the wine in the bottle and prevent air from entering.
However, some air does enter the wine from the cork, but not through the cork. According to Dr. Paulo Lopes, who conducted various academic studies with the University of Bordeaux about closures and oxygen ingress, a natural cork stopper is made up of 80% to 90% air, and it is actually this air (and the oxygen it contains) that gradually affects the wine over time.
The amount of oxygen that enters the wine through the cork depends on the quality of the cork and how well it seals the bottle. A poor-quality cork can lead to too much oxygen entering the bottle, causing the wine to spoil. Conversely, a high-quality cork can allow just enough oxygen to enter the bottle to help the wine age gracefully.
Oxidation is a crucial factor in the aging process, and it can be both beneficial and detrimental to the wine. A small amount of oxygen can help the wine develop complex flavors and aromas, while too much oxygen can cause the wine to become flat and lose its flavor.
Another factor that can affect the wine’s aging process is bottle shock, which is a temporary condition that can occur when the wine is shaken or disturbed during transport. This can cause the wine to lose its flavor and aroma, but it typically resolves itself after a few days or weeks of rest.
Effect on Flavor, Aroma, and Color
Wine aging is a complex process that can significantly affect the flavor, aroma, and color of wine.
As wine ages, it undergoes a series of chemical reactions that can alter its taste and smell.
The flavor of wine changes as it ages. Young wines often have a fruity, fresh taste due to the presence of primary flavor compounds, such as esters and aldehydes. As wine ages, these primary flavors give way to more complex secondary and tertiary flavors.
Secondary flavors are created through the oxidation of wine, which breaks down the primary flavor compounds and creates new compounds that contribute to the wine’s taste. These flavors can include nutty, caramel, and honey notes.
Tertiary flavors are the result of long-term aging and can include earthy, leathery, and mushroom-like flavors. These flavors are created by the breakdown of the wine’s tannins and other compounds.
The aroma of wine is also affected by aging. Young wines often have a strong, fruity aroma due to the presence of primary aroma compounds, such as terpenes and esters. As wine ages, these primary aromas give way to more complex secondary and tertiary aromas.
Secondary aromas are created through the oxidation of wine and can include nutty, caramel, and honey notes. Tertiary aromas are the result of long-term aging and can include earthy, leathery, and mushroom-like aromas.
The color of wine changes as it ages. Red wines often become lighter in color as they age, while white wines can become darker. This color change is due to the breakdown of pigments in the wine, such as anthocyanins and tannins.
As red wines age, the red color (anthocyanin) changes from deeper ruby and violet hues to paler red and orange colors. Merlot is actually one of those varieties that’s famous for going orange faster than other red wines (like Cabernet Sauvignon). If you wait long enough, the red pigment will eventually disappear altogether, leaving a brown wine.