When it comes to wine, there are people who are casual wine drinkers, people who are advanced wine drinkers, and then there are the collectors. Today we will talk about what allows wine to age and why the casual drinkers should try more age worthy and advanced level wines.
When a wine is age worthy, we mean that it is built to last. Some wines, normally in the lower end of price ranges, don't hold many of the physical qualities of age worthy wines. It doesn't mean that they are bad, it just means that they are meant to be consumed at a young age. Some examples of wines that should be consumed young are New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, Beaujolais, and even some of the lower end Cabernet Sauvignon you buy from California. So what are the physical components of wine that allow them to age in someone's cellar for 5 to 100 years?
The first thing we should talk about is the source of the juice. You have to have good quality fruit, from a vineyard that has the right type of climate to grow grapes that are able to age. Almost all grapes can age, but there are a few areas that don't allow the grapes to mature to the point where aging is a possibility. We can go a little more in detail here and even talk about the single vineyards within appellations that have even more precise microclimates. It could be a difference of less than a mile where one area is better than the other.
Secondly, you must look at the acidity levels of wine. Acidity is very important for preserving the juice for long term aging. When it comes to white wines, Champagne, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc would be considered high acid wines. This is why they can generally age for many years, with some aging over 100 years in the bottle. In terms of red wine, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo are three grapes that use acidity to carry on their legacies.
The third and final physical attribute to a wine that allows it to age is the tannin structure. Wines with heavier and fuller tannins will last longer in the cellar. As wine ages in the cellar, the individual tannin molecules chain together and will keep the integrity of the wine. The tannins become softer as the wine ages, and the wine then becomes more elegant over time. The riper flavors or a wine will also turn into more earth driven flavors. Some people will mention that a wine is way too young to drink, which means that the body, flavor and specifically the tannin structure is way too aggressive. It needs that extra time in the bottle to become slightly more balanced and elegant.
There is also a misconception that only expensive wine can age. That isn't necessarily true. With some research you can find affordable wines that you can add to your collection and come back to, whether it is short term aging or long. You can find white wines specifically that will age for decades and not cost more than $30. Reds on the other hand, you may need to spend more money for a wine to age thirty years, but there are plenty of reds under $30 dollars that will benefit from short term aging.
Bottom line is that wine is an evolving specimen from the time it is picked to the time you decide to drink it. There is always a perfect time period to drink a wine and these attributes are what determines when that time will be.