There isn’t a straightforward answer about when to age or to drink a wine. Some are produced to be consumed immediately and others are made to be stored in a cellar and enjoyed years down the track when they taste at their optimum. In many ways the correct length of time to age wine is a matter of personal preference. Wines go through stages of development over time that drastically alter their characteristics and flavours, and some people prefer them earlier on in the process when still young and some prefer them when more mature.
For a wine to have good ageing potential it firstly needs a lot of flavour (tannin in red wines will help) and high acidity. Flavour will slowly decrease, so if there isn’t much to start with, it won’t be long before it’s all gone! Acidity keeps wine fresh and vibrant.
Lets start by looking at wines that are meant to be enjoyed relatively young. Many people think that the basic rule is that white can’t age, while all red wines only get better with time. This cannot be further from the truth.
Most wines these days are made to be drunk within a year. light, fresh and fruity styles are made for immediate enjoyment and this applies to both whites and reds. These wines will not be overly complex and have little to no oak.
Wines that have ageing potential will usually have been made for that purpose and are known as vin de garde. They will have been made to initially have as much flavour and tannin as possible, sometimes to the point that they are completely undrinkable for the first few years.
When these wines reach their optimum drinking age is again largely subjective. They will gradually loose their primary flavours, which are fruity, and secondary flavours will increase, these are usually more savoury (tobacco, wood etc). However, there is a point when these two different sets of flavours are reckoned to totally complement each other and therefore the wine is thought to be at its peak.
Wines, however, can be enjoyed either side of this peak. Many people love the fruitiness of wine and believe it is the most important characteristic, they might find it becomes unappealing once too much is lost. Others love the savoury flavours and enjoy wine when all the primary fruit flavours have disappeared. This shows how wine is a personal thing.
The conditions of the storage space are vital when ageing wine. A cellar would be the best option, but that obviously isn’t feasible for everyone. The wine needs to be in an environment that is quite stable and doesn’t fluctuate too much. The best storage space should be dark, cool and not subject to much movement. A wardrobe is a great location, especially if you don’t have much space.
Examples of wines able to age:
- Chardonnay (oaked) (Burgundy)
- Viogner (Condrieu)
- Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux) (Cabernet dominant)
- Syrah/Shiraz (Rhone, Barossa)
- Nebbiolo (Barolo, Barberesco)