05 Aug Wine 101 – August 05, 2015: What Types of Wines Improve With Age?
This Week In Wine 101: What Types of Wines Improve With Age?
Here’s a bit of trivia. Did you know that approximately 90% of all wines are meant to be drunk while they’re young? Also, only an estimated 1% of wines actually benefit from long-term aging. Over the years, there’s been a big misconception regarding how long a wine (particularly red wines) should be “laid down.” The truth is the majority of all wine should be drunk within a year or two.
It’s true, as a wine ages it changes but if you age a wine that is meant to be enjoyed while it’s young, its characteristics, complexity and the flavors you were hoping to savor, will most likely have passed their expiration date, leaving you with an old musty, damp, foul grape juice that is beyond repair. Meaning, at that point no amount of decanting or aeration will help your bottle of wine. Wine is a life form. Like people, it’s born, experiences youth and peaks before it begins its unavoidable, often drastic) fate. Though not all wines have this longevity due to their origins and beginnings.
So why do certain types of wines benefit from aging? Well, there are several reasons that can influence a wine’s ability to age properly, including the following:
a. The region a wine is from
b. The quality of grape
c. Vintage (year)
d. Vinification, which is the process for making wine, and
e. How the wine is stored.
How Does Weather Affect Wine?
Weather is another important factor. Depending on whether or not the wine was produced during a good year with favorable weather conditions can dictate how and if the wine will improve with age. Various regions have a history and affinity for producing wine. These regions have mastered vinification practices that have consistently produced wines that benefit from aging. But even if you invest in a Chateau Haut-Brion but fail to store it in the right conditions, you can kiss that bottle good-bye. Unfavorable storage conditions can accelerate the aging process or cause the wine to spoil very quickly. Learn more about the different methods for storing wine by reading, The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wine Storage Solutions.
Red wines with a known track record for aging well are: Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel. These grapes possess higher levels of phenolic compounds (tannins). The skins, stems, seeds and other parts of the grape are utilized when the grapes are processed into wine. These items are what give red wine its color. During fermentation wine will absorb more phenols from the oak barrels used for aging. The phenol compounds or tannins are what serve as a natural preservative and are what attribute to the wines longevity. Other grapes that age well include, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir. However because of their lightness in color and lower tannin levels, these wines age for 2 – 8 years at the most. If you’re a collector and have the budget, look for a vintage year in any one of these varietals. All of these wines will shine in their own way when aged properly. The real surprise will be when you decide to open a bottle and taste its fusion of flavors.
What Does This Mean For White Wines?
So you’re probably wondering what this means for white wines? While it’s not as common, some white wines can benefit from aging. In fact, Chardonnay, Rieslings (in particular German Rieslings), Chenin Blanc (like Vouvrays) from the Loire Valley, Furmint from Hungary, select Sauternes, Gewurztraminer and Semillon wines all have the potential to improve over time.
So, what ingredients or factors help white wines age for more than a couple of years? Let’s compare. First, when sampling red wines (that age well) you’ll notice they share a common flavor or mouth feel, often described as bitter or pungent. As we touched on earlier, these are tannins, which are more common to red wine due to the length of time the grape seeds, stems, skins and other grape by products remain in contact with the grape juice and the length of time the wine spends in (oak) barrels. So how does this relate to white wine?
Well, there’s also have a familiar trait or flavor that’s more prominent in white wines (that age well). It is acidity. Because white wines have lower tannin levels, due to them being fermented without the grape skins, stems and seed, they draw their tannins from the oak barrels they’re aged in. So what helps a white wine age for several years or more? The acidity, fruit extract and alcohol. These elements help preserve the fruitful flavors and fresh aromas. Depending on the varietal you select, certain white wines can age anywhere from 2 – 30 years, and in some rare cases a little more.
Over time the tannins (red wine) or acidity (white wine) will dissipate allowing the wine’s bouquets and flavors to elevate upon being opened. But to be sure, we recommend contacting the vineyard to find the best time to enjoy the wine(s).
Here are some examples of varietals with a suggested time to age or enjoy by:
Red Wines to “Lay Down”
2011 Domaine Les Grands Bois Rasteau Cuvee Marc, Rhone, France: enjoy now or age 8 yrs.
2010 Gaja Sori San Lorenzo Barberesco-Langhe, Piedmont, Italy: age 4 – 15 yrs.
2009 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (Cab blend): age 2 – 15 yrs.
2009 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile (Cab blend): enjoy now or age 6 yrs.
2010 Domaine Chante Cigale Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France: age 2 – 10 yrs.
2010 Ravenswood Winery Single Vineyard Old Hill Zinfandel: enjoy now or age 4 yrs.
2010 Chateau La Confession, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France: enjoy now or age 4 yrs.
2009 Chateau Barde-Haut, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France: age 2 – 15 yrs.
2008 Lucien Le Moine Corton-Charlemagne Chardonnay: enjoy now or age 6 yrs.
2008 Lagier Meredith Syrah, Mount Veeder: enjoy now or age 6 yrs.
2008 Roberto Voerzio Brunate, Barolo DOCG, Italy: age 2 – 15 yrs.
2008 Turley Wine Cellars Mead Ranch Zinfandel: enjoy now or age 2 yrs.
2007 Far Niente Estate Bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon: enjoy now or age up to 20 yrs.
2007 Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico Rosso Irpinia, Campania, Italy: enjoy now or age 6 yrs.
2007 Telmo Rodriguez Altos De Lanzaga Doca Rioja DOCa, Spain: age 1 – 10 yrs.
2002 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru (Pinot Noir): enjoy now or age 16 yrs.
White Wines to “Lay Down”
2012 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay: enjoy now or age 3 yrs.
2011 Louis Jadot Referts, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru (chardonnay): age 2 – 10 yrs.
2009 Schafer-Fohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Großes Gewächs: enjoy now or age 13 yrs.
2009 Weingut Donnhoff Norheimer Dellcheimer Dellchen Riesling Spatlese: age 2 – 10 yrs.
2009 Domaine Huet Vouvray Cuvee Constance (Chenin Blanc): enjoy now or age up to 15 yrs.
2007 Chateau de la Roche-Aux-Moines Clos de la Bergerie Chenin Blanc: enjoy now or age 5 yrs.
2007 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos (Hungarian Furmint): enjoy now or age up to 10 yrs.
Grand Cru Classe Chateau de Rayne Vigneau Sauternes: 6 – 25 yrs.
Linticlarus Tiefenbrunner Gewurztraminer: age 8 – 10 yrs.
There are several reasons why certain wines benefit from aging. The region, grape, vintage year, vinification process and storage of a wine all play a role in a wine’s life span. However, there are particular red grape varietals that benefit from aging more than others, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot. It’s the higher tannin levels found in these wines, that allows them to improve with age. White wines can also appreciate over time. Varietals like Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer all age nicely. Though low in tannins these varietals have the ability to age due to the levels of acidity, fruit extract and alcohol content.
Most vineyards and wineries will gladly share with you when they believe their wines are meant to be drunk. This only ensures that you enjoy their wines to their fullest potential. You can also ask you local wine merchant. A vintage chart is a useful tool when trying to determine which years and regions experienced exceptional conditions. At thegrape.com we’re also available to assist you with this. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter. Salud!