Age before beauty?

Published on October 15, 2019

A lot of people think that all wine improves with age, but this isn’t the case. Some of us drink wine that is 10, 20 or even 30 years old, however around 98% of all wine out there is not meant to last this long. In fact, most of the wine we buy in our local wine shop is meant to be drunk immediately, with a shelf life of only 1-5 years.

So why drink older wines? 

The answer is that many wines taste better and give more enjoyment when they are older.   Imagine you have two glasses of red wine in front of you. Each was made from grapes grown in the same vineyard, but 10 years apart. The glass on the left is young and smells of ripe blackberries.  When you take a sip, the wine tastes thin, acidic and bitter.  The flavours tail off quickly.  The glass on your right smells like earth and leather. It is still fruity but the taste is more subtle and mixed with chocolate, liquorice, and leather. You swallow, and your mouth feels fuzzy and warm. The flavours last a good while.  A properly aged wine will taste and feel very different (and most people would say better) than the younger version.

Finding wines that will improve over time requires that you look at wine’s structure, in particular, the levels of:

  • Acidity: Wines lose acidity over time, so it’s important that the acidity is high.
  • Tannins: These are molecules from the stems, seeds, and skins of the grape so are far more important in red wine which includes these components during fermentation.  They bind to the proteins in your mouth leaving it feeling dry and chalky like eating a green banana.  They protect the wine with their antioxidants and smooth and round out the wine over time.

How do you know when to drink the bottle sitting in your wine rack?

First, look at the colour.

For the most part, if you’re drinking a white or rosé, these wines will be best opened in the year in which they’re bought. If you love drinking Sauvignon Blanc or Provence rosé in the summer don’t leave them until next summer – drink them now!  There are some whites that do age very well – Chardonnay, Riesling and Gruner Veltliner have high acidity and therefore tend to age well. In addition, white wines aged in oak, such as Rioja Blanco have added tannins from the oak barrels.

For red wines, the grape from which it was made tends to drive its ageability. Red wines made from grapes high in tannins, acidity or both, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, tend to not only age the best but need some ageing in order to fully develop their flavours.

Wine ageing potential by grape variety:

Red wine grapes:

  • Nebbiolo ~20 years
  • Aglianico ~20 years
  • Cabernet Sauvignon ~10–20 years
  • Tempranillo ~10–20 years
  • Sangiovese ~7–15 years
  • Merlot ~7–15 years
  • Syrah ~5–15 years
  • Pinot Noir ~10 years (longer for Burgundy)
  • Malbec ~10 years
  • Zinfandel ~5 years

White wine grapes:

  • White Rioja ~10–15 years
  • Reisling – 10–15 years
  • Chardonnay ~10 years (longer for Burgundy)
  • Trebbiano ~8 years
  • Garganega ~8 years
  • Sémillon ~7 years (longer for Bordeaux)
  • Sauvignon Blanc ~4 years
  • Viognier ~4 years
  • Muscadet ~3 years
  • Pinot Gris ~3 years

All wines on the Winecroft Club List are chosen to be perfect to drink now.  However, many will last and improve over the next 5-10 years – a good white example would be the 2017 Dreissigacker Organic Estate Riesling.  An ageable red would be the 2016 Cullen Mangan Vineyard.

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