You may be a wine lover and still find the subject of the aging potential of wine a foreign concept. Put down the wine decanter and let’s find out some things together so you’ll be able to tell if the wine you bought has the potential of aging or not.
Truth and myth
You don’t have to let this subject only to the great connoisseurs of the world. It’s not quite as you’ve heard that all wines present the possibility of aging or that the wine created in your home, by yourself, doesn’t have this ability. This subject isn’t really all that complicated and the more you read about it, the faster you’ll understand all about aging wine.
You can use the knowledge of chemistry and the organoleptic attributes that a wine has (feel, color, taste, odor) in order to establish for how long of a period it can last and when exactly the best moment to drink it is. As you do this more often, you’ll develop the capacity of telling such things using the organoleptic features just like any other true expert.
As you know very well, wine starts its creation process in a vineyard. There, elements like the soil and the climate influence directly the quality, but also the chemistry part of the fruit. Only the superior fruits and using modern winemaking methods can lead to a wine that survives the aging without a problem.
Generally speaking, you’ll find that red wine has a better chance of aging than the white one. The wine you make yourself has actually a high chance of lasting a great many years, but the wine that you buy in a store is usually meant to last only as much as one or two years, with only a maximum of 5% of those wines being ready for the aging process.
The chemistry of wine (color, acidity, pH, level of alcohol, etc.) represents a very important role in determining this. All of these factors impact the aging potential differently and they must be taken into consideration as a whole if you want to have the most exact assessment. It’s enough for one of the factors to be off for the whole wine to be compromised.
When you learn about these indicators, you may not find out exactly the assessment in years, but you will be able to learn to tell as to when the proper time of drinking said wine is. As you develop your tasting technique and follow how a wine evolves with the passing of time, your estimations will also get much better.
A lesson in chemistry
In this chapter, we are going to talk about pH, acidity, and the simplest feature you can observe, the color.
When it comes to assessing the aging potential of a wine, the pH and the color are by far the ones that stand out the most as being highly important. If a red wine has low pH, then it will have a redder color, the aroma will be fruitier and fresher, they’ll age slowly, will spoil also very slowly and will be easy to maintain as the SO2 in the cellar is very much active.
If the pH in a red wine is high, then they will be less red, having more of a purple or brownish color, the aroma will be less complex and fruity, they tend to age much faster and they also spoil quicker. As a result, they are also harder to be kept even in a cellar with SO2.
Wine usually has the value of pH around 3.2 – 3.6. White wine is placed at the lower end while the red one is placed at the higher one. If they rank below these numbers, they are very acid thus making them more unbalanced, while if they are above these numbers, they become more unstable and very dull.
If we’re talking about white wine, in case it has aged for too long, it will start to slowly darken to gold-brown. Regarding red wine, its red color will slowly turn into orange and then brown – especially around the rim. If you check the color and pH and these point to the wine being in its prime, you have to check it again at least once more that year.
Write down the differences you observe in order to better understand what are the features of aging. The acidity level has the opposite relationship to pH. As the pH is lower, the acidity will be higher, while a high pH indicated low acidity. Therefore, the refreshing acidity that defines a wine will make you understand the potential of aging it displays more easily.
A wine that you find to be flat means it doesn’t have the ability of aging and, as a result, you’ll better drink it at the next opportunity.
In red wine, the body and the potential to age are directly influenced by tannins. Tannins also have interactions with the pigments that give the wine its color. They are highly important when it comes to creating wines that have the ability to age. Tannins are known to be antioxidants so they give a longer “life” to the wine.
If you read a label that says a wine is “not approachable in its youth” this means that the level of tannins makes it too harsh and that it will require some time so it can become softer. On the other hand, a “full-bodied” wine has a high tannin content.
The fact that white wines are low in tannin levels is what keeps them from being good at aging. In order to keep a white wine for a longer period of time, you have to keep it in oak barrels as it has a higher level of tannin.
Especially wines that are created by using carbonic maceration are not meant to age as the level of tannin is low.
You may be led to believe that a high level of alcohol also means “full-bodied”. That’s not actually true. A wine that has a low level of alcohol can also be full-bodied, while a wine that has a high level of alcohol can lack body. It is worth mentioning that since alcohol plays the role of preservative, a wine with a high level of alcohol will resist for a longer period of time.
We can take as an example a wine that is full of tannin and has a level of 20% alcohol. This one can age for decades on end, while a much fruitier wine with a concentration of 7% alcohol will only be good for so long. We can also mention that a syrupy and sweet-tasting icewine with 10% alcohol can be kept for over 10 years.
The aroma and the bouquet
As we mentioned in the beginning, the aroma and the bouquet that a wine has can be great indicators of the wine’s potential of aging. Wines have the need to be “closed in” which means they have to be put in a cellar in order to be able to reach their full and true potential. But what is exactly the difference between the aroma and the bouquet?
Basically, aroma represents the sum of the odor elements in young wines; meanwhile, the bouquet is the smell that the wine starts to develop as the process of aging has started and that develops slowly as time passes. This means a young wine has aroma while aged wines have a bouquet.
A young wine will develop its aroma based on the grape varieties and vinification methods that were used – like the yeast selection. They’re not seen as very complex ones and are “closed in” since their aroma hasn’t evolved into the various flavors one can have based on the complex chemical reaction and oxidation reactions.
Once the wine starts to age, the bouquet starts to develop as well and it will have various flavors. More flavors mean the wine is more complex as well.
If you want to know if a wine is still good or not basing your research on the bouquet, here’s how you find that out: in case the wine wasn’t affected by poor keeping conditions or simply poor winemaking methods, the wine can be past its prime if you notice that the bouquet has a bit of an off-odor such as vinegar.
We told you it’s not that hard. Now do some tests and you’ll soon see results!