Better With Age? Modern Myths About Aging Wine
Everyone seems to have heard the saying that “wine gets better with age,” and most people smile, nod, and agree.
But most authorities state that more wine is consumed too old than too young. Experts may debate on precise numbers, but many agree that 5-10% of wine improves after one year and only 1% improves after 5-10 years. In fact, more than 90% of all the wines made in the world are meant to be consumed within one year, and less than 1% of the world’s wines are meant to be aged for more than five years. Undisputed “master of wine” experts, about 11 people achieving this educational mastery of wine in the world, agree.
Wine definitely changes with age. Reliable experts and everyday people tasting wine that has been aged more than 10-20 years agree that it’s a disappointment.
But what happens when wine
ages? As wine ages past six months, the fruitfulness starts to deteriorate rapidly.
When the fresh fruit characteristics of the specific grape variety begins to
deteriorate, then other characteristics in the wine start to be more apparent,
such as the wood characteristics specific to a particular tree species.
Two main characteristics are derived from wood that is in contact with the making of the wine—either as a container for the wine or in the wine as smaller pieces of wood. These two characteristics are spice and the toasting of the wood. In the wood of specific tree species, a particular spice aromatic can be found. Putting the wood from a particular tree species with a particular spice characteristic will impart that spice characteristic into the wine. A large array of different spice aromatics such as vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and peppers can be found in specific trees species. With aging of the wine, these spice aromatics can change and become more apparent, because the fruitfulness has softened, or they may start to have an off characteristic due to a little oxidation. Wood used in wine is toasted, either light, medium, or heavy. The toasting of the wood imparts a variety of characteristics into the wine depending on the amount of toasting. The basic characteristics include smoky, chocolate, coffee, tobacco, leather, and earthy. As the fresh fruit aromas dissipate, these toasting characteristics are much more apparent as wine ages, along with some off flavors from the spice characteristics from the wood. As wine ages, the fresh fruit characteristics gives way to a slight caramel taste and aromatic from the natural oxidative process. You will also start to see a slight change in the transparence of the wine and a change in the bright color profile into a tinge of brown.
The number of polyphenols—primarily from the skins—and the lower the acidity level in the wine, the more protection from deterioration of the wine. Through extended maceration or skin contact, polyphenolic compounds increase. Pigmented (anthocyanin) tannins, colloids, tannin-polysaccharides, and tannin-proteins influence a wine’s color and act as a preservative.
During the winemaking process, the level of acid can be adjusted; with a lower pH the wine is a little more protected. The exposure to wood (normally oak)—either during the fermentation process or during barrel aging—impart more phenolic compounds into the wine. Many Old World or European wines are not filtered, which retains the present phenolic solids. Most American wines are filtered, and this process of removing mostly the tartaric acid in the wine slightly reduces the phenolic solids.
With that said, there are some winemaking processes that can help the aging process or decrease the aging process.
The bottom line? A well-made balanced wine should have all the complexity and fruitful characteristics appropriate for a specific grape variety. There are slight nuance differences with different winemaking styles and preferences, but the true experts (those with a Master of Wine) agree that wine is best consumed within one year. Only 5-10% of wine made worldwide may improve after one year and only 1% of wines made worldwide are made to age past five years.
Everything I’ve personally read and learned in the last 40 years about wine and aging brought me to the conclusion: Buy wine, drink wine, and if you need more wine—buy wine.
by Dr. Grover Lee
Dr. Grover Lee is the owner and founder of Wise Villa Winery. By applying a rigorous scientific approach to winemaking, he combines the best of classic winemaking techniques with the rigors of science. His appreciation for European winemaking and the importance of food and wine especially shape his style.
J. Robinson Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course Third Edition pp. 39-41. Abbeville Press 2003 ISBN
R. Boulton, V. Singleton, L. Bisson, R. Kunkee Principles and Practices of Winemaking, pp. 382-424 Springer 1996 New York
Windows on the World Wine School: Kevin Zraly (http;//archive,today/20141225194922/http:/www.windowswineschool.co m/faqs.html)