Question of the Week: How Long Can I Age My Wine

Last week the Wine Road and Simple Hedonisms held our second round  0f”Question of the Week” for free tickets to Barrel Tasting. (or a Wine Road cookbook.) on the Wine Road Facebook Fan page.

The winning question, from Robert Henry Hartley Jr, was:

Question: Some of my wine club wine say enjoy next spring, others say keep for decades. Why the big difference?
That’s a great question Robert, and one very applicable to consumers buying wine.
Wine is a like a living entity that changes over time, influenced by many factors, both from wine making, the varietal (grapes) used, and environmental, such as storage. This could be a very long, geeky answer, or a simple one. Lets take the simpler route!

WineMaker Recommendations

When you purchase your wine, as you noted, often the Winemaker or Wine Club notes will often say “drink this year” or “Can drink now but will hold well for xxx years.”

He or She is making these recommendations based both on their personal knowledge of the varietal, as well as the influences of methods they may have employed, so following their advice is recommended.

It is a myth that all wine gets universally better with age; the  majority of wine is consumed soon after purchase, and some wines were crafted specifically to be drunk young, and enjoy the full fruit characteristics. While there are no universal rules, rose and white wines are often in the category. Less expensive wines often also are as they may not have gone through barrel aging and other (more expensive) methods that may add structure for aging.

Many red wines are often higher in tannins, which  come from contact with the seeds and skins during fermentation, as well as contact from oak during barrel aging.  (White wines do not have skin or seed contact after crush.) Tannins act as a natural preservative, and help a wine age. A young red wine high in tannins, will benefit from aging; in fact it may be bitter and unpleasant drunk too early, as the tannins can be unpleasant in  the mouth at too high a level. Over time the tannins soften and breakdown, making the wine more complex.

Other Factors That Impact Aging

Wine is very sensitive to outside factors, especially light, temperature, and vibration.

  • Newly bottled wine, or wine subjected to adverse travel conditions, often goes through ‘bottle shock’ and should be stored for a few weeks to allow it to regain it natural harmony of its components.
  • High temperatures are wine’s mortal enemy. Just a few hours of 80+ temps can take years away from the wine’s aging capacity, if it doesn’t also negatively impact the wines present quality. People visit wine country in July, and leave their purchases in the car, and wonder why when they get home, they don’t taste the same. Same goes for wine club shipments. You guys in Texas in August, ever feel how hot your wine box is….if  it’s been riding around in the brown UPS truck all day, don’t plan on cellaring it for 5 years. Ask your winery if they will hold shipments during inclement months, or pay more for better, non ground shipping. When visiting wineries, always bring a cooler.
  • Equally bad is temperature fluctuation. Your house that doesn’t have AC and spikes to 90s during that heat wave…guess what it’s done to your wine. I highly recommend a small wine cellar for anyone who holds wine,at least for those special bottles. Lacking that, try and find a place closest to the ground that keeps a stable temperature. I have 3 wine cellars now, and put overflow cases in a closet with wood floors, thats low to the ground, and always cool.
  • Light and vibration. Wine doesn’t like excessive exposure to direct light, especially florescent. It also doesn’t like vibration. So that wine rack on top of your fridge with sunlight streaming in all day….move it!
  • Moisture: in order to keep a seal, the cork must stay wet. That’s the reason bottles of wine are laid down, not stored upright. The cork stays wet, and keeps a seal. Ideal cellaring conditions have a bit of humidity as well to help with cork moistness. For your average collector, laying the wine down and at a proper temp are the highest priority, unless you live in an especially arid climate.

I hope that was useful. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more articles on Barrel Tasting, and a special article on winery promotions. We will have one more drawing for free tickets for Blog email subscribers, end of this month, so sign up today!

cheers!

William

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