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Drink Now…Or Cellar?? The Real Story on Aging Wine

February 29th, 2016

old_wine_by_jacqchristiaan-d6catin

Think all wine gets better with age?  The truth is, only a tiny fraction of wine is actually designed to stand up to and improve with aging.  In fact, 99% of all wine we buy is meant to be drunk right now. Although, when we say a wine is meant to be drunk now, we mean it is intended to be consumed within five years or so of buying it.  After those five years are up, the wine can actually start to deteriorate and lose many of the qualities that made it so delicious in the first place.

Most wines worth cellaring are considered premium wines.  Expect them to cost at least $30 a bottle.  Now, this doesn’t mean that all $30+ wines are expected to cellar well. The ability of a wine to age is influenced by many factors including grape variety, vintage, viticultural practices, wine region and winemaking style.

What’s the science behind the aging of wine?  In general, wines with a low pH (such as Pinot Noir and Sangiovese) have a greater capability of aging. With red wines, a high level of flavor compounds, such as phenolics (most notably tannins), will increase the likelihood that a wine will be able to age. Wines with high levels of phenols include Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Syrah.

The white wines with the longest aging potential tend to be those with a high amount of extract and acidity. The acidity in white wines, acting as a preservative, has a role similar to that of tannins in red wines. The process of making white wines, which includes little to no skin contact, means that white wines have a significantly lower amount of phenolic compounds, though barrel fermentation and oak aging can impart some phenols. Similarly, the minimal skin contact with rosé wine limits their aging potential.

So, you’ve found a wine you love…. how will you know if it’s worth storing? The smart approach is to buy direct from the winery and talk to them about the wine and how long they think it will last. They can definitely give you a good baseline for an expiration date. Of course, we say that wine is meant to be enjoyed, not looked at in a cellar, so pop your corks often!

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