To Age Or Not To Age…You Decide

by Monica Bennion on April 17, 2012

How long should I age a wine before it is ready to drink?  How can I tell if a wine has aging capability?  Are there certain wines that age better than others?  These are just a few common questions when it comes to aging wines.

It is the general belief that aged wines are “better”, more “mature” and somehow more “valued”.  While this may hold true in some instances, aging wines is purely a matter of taste.  We all have different preferences when it comes to drinking wine.  Some like their wines bright, lively and young, while others enjoy wines that have mellow, soft and subdued characteristics, often associated with an aged wine.

HOW LONG CAN I AGE A WINE BEFORE IT IS READY TO DRINK?
This question has many different answers, and most of them are based on taste preference.  If you love a particular wine at this very moment, the answer is simply, “don’t age it and drink it now.”  If you like the wine, but find it to be a little too sharp, abrasive or young (aka tannic), this wine may benefit from some rest in a cool, dark place.  The question though is how long before it is “ready” to drink?  Again, the answer is one based on personal preference, so this can be a little tricky, and may take some “practice”, which half of the fun!

HOW CAN I TELL IF A WINE HAS AGING CAPABILITY?
One of the best ways to know the length of time you can age a wine is to get it directly from the horses’ mouth, in this case, the winemaker.  Each winemaker crafts wine with different intentions.  Some strive to make wine that is meant to be enjoyed now, while others make wine with the intent that it will age well and be enjoyed in 5, 10 or 20 years.  Often times, a winery will feature a TRADE section on their website, which allows you to explore the different wines they make, as well as information on each wine, including the aging time.  Should you have any questions about our wines and the aging capability, feel free to contact us at [email protected].

If you are unable to obtain information from the winemaker, winery or the website, you can go about getting your answer in a little more scientific way.  In general, wines that have a lower pH (higher acidity), higher tannins and lower alcohol levels tend to have better aging capability.  This “rule” however, is more specific to red wines than white wines (as discussed below).  CLICK HERE to learn more about the “Science Behind the Numbers“.

ARE THERE CERTAIN WINES THAT AGE BETTER THAN OTHERS?
Overall, red wines have better aging capability than white wines.  The reason being is tannins.  Red wines get their color from constant contact with the skins, stems and seeds during the fermentation process.  The choice of wood barrels can also affect the tannin levels of a red wine.  White wines spend little to no time in contact with the skins, stems and seeds, and today most winemakers are fermenting white wines in stainless steel containers, all of which nearly eliminate the level of tannin.  In addition to tannins, a wine must have a structured and balanced acidity to help keep it fresh over the years.

Red wines that generally have good aging capability include Cabernet Sauvignon, well made Pinot Noir and Syrah, just to name a few.  With regard to white wines, a few commonly recognized white wines can age quite well.  These include Chardonnay (typically those fermented in oak) and Riesling (due to its natural acidity).  Dessert wines and Port style wines also benefit from extended time in the bottle.

CLICK HERE to view our quick reference guide to aging your favorite Scott Harvey and Jana Wines.

AVOID GOING OVER THE HILL
The biggest gamble when it comes to aging wine is finding that you waited too long, and it has passed its prime.  Far too often, we save a special bottle for a special occasion, only to be sorely disappointed when that special occasion arrives.  The best way to avoid this plight is to make sure you know the best drinking window for this particular wine, and plan your special occasion around that.  Also, know the proper storing conditions for wine, as these conditions can affect how quickly a wine will age.  If a wine is said to keep for 15-20 years, this range is given for wines that are stored properly.  CLICK HERE to learn more about proper storage techniques.

IN CLOSING
Aging wine is a matter of preference and there really is no defined timeline of what constitutes “aging.”  To some, aging can mean the car ride home, and to others, it may mean 20+ years.  If you enjoy the younger more intense wines, it’s pretty easy to track those down, as they tend to be more readily available.  For those who enjoy the aged wines, there are a few roads to explore.  One avenue in obtaining aged wines is to visit wineries who offer “Library” wines.  Library wines are past vintages, properly stored by the winery and generally have had a good amount of time in the bottle.  If you are purchasing wines now with the intent to age them, this will require a little bit of willpower and patience, but your diligence will be well worth the wait.  Just make sure you find wines that are age-worthy and are stored in the best possible conditions.

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