Many wine enthusiasts are not aware of the full myriad of factors that contribute to a wine’s aging. The aging of wine is influenced by a number of elements that you might not realize. Aside from the characteristics of the wine itself, its bottle, storage method, grape variety, region of the vineyard, winemaking style, and cork can all contribute to the process. In this blog, we’ll explore 10 of the most important factors that make wine age well.
Properties That Impact An Aged Wine
The following properties that make wines age well are sometimes overlooked by those who focus solely on grape varietals, alcohol content, or country of origin. Below is a list of some of these traits to consider when you’re interested in purchasing your next bottle with an intention to drink it down the line.
The shape and material of the wine bottle can affect how well a young wine ages. For example, wines that are sealed in dark green or brown glass bottles will age better than those in clear glass bottles. This is because light can damage the wine over time. Thick-walled bottles also protect wine from temperature fluctuations and allow for slower oxidation, which are both important when it comes to aging wine.
The way wine is stored can impact how well it ages. Wines that are cellared in ideal conditions (cool, dark, and humid) will age better than those that are not. Temperature fluctuations can cause a wine to prematurely age or oxidize.
Not surprisingly, wine aging can be impacted by the type of grape used to produce a wine. For example, tannic grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon tend to age better than those with lower tannin concentrations, such as Pinot Noir.
Region Of The Vineyard
Different regions yield different conditions – particularly when it comes to weather patterns. For example, regions with higher rainfall tend to produce grapes that are more acidic. This means they will age differently than wines from drier climates where the vines receive less water. Winemakers who craft their wine in vineyards located at high altitudes also have an advantage since cooler temperatures can help preserve flavors and prevent premature aging.
The way a winemaker crafts his or her product plays a big role when it comes to how well it ages – particularly related to tannins which determine whether or not a red wine is suitable for cellaring. For example, the use of oak barrels during fermentation allows natural enzymes found in wood known as “polyphenols” to interact with grape skins and seeds resulting in deeper colors and higher tannin concentration.
Something we don’t often think about, the type of cork used to seal the wine bottle, is also important when it comes to aging. Natural corks allow for a very slow oxidation process, which is beneficial for aged wines. However, synthetic corks do not allow for this slow oxidation.
As we touched on earlier, tannins are one of the most important elements to consider when aging a red wine. Tannin concentration is determined by grape variety and winemaking style, both of which impact how tannins develop in wine during maturation. Higher tannin wines tend to be better suited for longer aging times while lower tannin wines can more easily become overwhelmed and lose their intended flavors over time.
Higher acidity wines tend to age faster than their lower counterparts. This is because they are more sensitive to oxidation and the development of off flavors over time. For this reason, it’s best not to keep young high-acid white wines for extended periods of time since most will peak in flavor within a few years after bottling.
Alcohol acts as a preservative, and therefore, higher-alcohol wine will generally outlive lower-alcohol wine. Wines with higher alcohol levels (14% or more) tend to age better than wines that are lower in alcohol.
The type of oak used during winemaking can play a role when considering how well wine ages as well. In addition to adding oak flavors, new oak aging changes the tannin structure of red wines. Tannins from the wood transfer into the wine, giving it a stronger structure. This contributes to a wine’s ageability, or longevity in the bottle.
As you can see, a number of different factors go into how wine ages. The most important thing to remember is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer – each wine should be considered on its own merits. With that said, however, paying attention to the above elements can help you better understand why some wines improve with age while others don’t.