Whether you were told by a waiter at the last fancy restaurant you frequented or you ran across the terminology while researching wine refrigerators, aged wine and the process of aging wine is where this classic beverage garners most of its mystique. There is little doubt that all wine, whether young or aged, should be kept at a proper storage temperature somewhere between 50°F to 59°F; however how long certain wines are kept at this temperature is open to personal preference. Where you can rely on the wonders of modern technology such as wine refrigerators and wine cellars (that are conveniently provided for you by the BeverageFactory.com I might add), there is no technology that can tell you exactly when a wine is ripe for enjoying.
Like that act of growing grapes, determining when a wine is perfectly aged is based more on intangible matters such as tradition and personal preference. However, this does not mean that we cannot tell you what aged wine is, what it may taste like, and why it is done. Understanding these factors is the key to determining how long you will want to age your wine and which methods of storage you will use to do so.
Wine is truly an amazing beverage. After all, can you think of many other perishable beverages that only get better after 30 or 40 years? While not all wines get better with age (We will tell you which ones do in our "Which Wines Should You Be Aging?" article), those that mature elegantly do so because of their tannins.
Tannins come from the pips, skins and stalks of the grapes in red wines and from wood storage in white wines. Tannins give the wine structure and preservative properties which may be very strong when the wine is young. Strong tannins can negatively affect the taste of young wines; however, this also means the wine will have years of time to slowly age. As the tannins slowly fade, the wine becomes more complex and fine tasting. Eventually these tannins begin to disappear all together and turn into sediment or precipitation. At this point, aromas from the original grapes are replaced by new aromas derived from the newly structured aged wine.
In addition to changes in structure and taste, aged wine changes in color. If you are drinking an aged red wine that may have been the deepest of reds when young, you will find it now much lighter. This color evolution occurs because the pigments in the wine bind to the tannin produced sediments. Where reds get lighter, aged white wines tend to become deeper brown or golden hued.
For starters, you may be wondering why there is so much emphasis placed on aged wine. Well, the reason is simple: it tastes good. Of course, determining what you like in a wine usually varies from one palate to the next; however, certain wines grow softer to the taste and become less fruity and more woodsy tasting than when they were young and perhaps too harsh. Wines are considered young when they have just finished the fermentation process. If at this point the wine is harsh and tannic, then chances are it will be an excellent wine for aging. If stored in the right setting, these wines will evolve, losing their acidity and harshness, replacing both with roundness and fullness.
While reds are more often aged than whites, certain white wines do benefit from a good long time out. In particular, oaky white wines that are young, fruity and golden will become subtly complex with hints of caramel when properly aged.
While there are no set rules as to which wines age well and which do not, there are certain clues to guide you. For example, price is a good indicator of a wines complexity. The more expensive the bottle the more complex the wine and therefore the more apt the wine is to aging. Younger, less expensive wines are generally fruitier and should be enjoyed soon after purchasing.
As we discussed earlier, tannic levels in the wine are an excellent indication of the wines ability to age; however, it is not the only indication. Acidity plays an important role in the aging process as the level of acidity keeps the wine fresh. While tannins and acidity preserve the wine, the amount of fruit in the wine is essential to the wine's flavor as it ages, and the richer a wine is in all three of these categories, the longer it should be aged.
That is the question after all. Whether you are just starting a wine collection or you have returned from that Napa Valley wine tour with 2 dozen cases, you want to know which wines you should age and which you should drink as well as how the heck you should age your wine properly.
We know that wine storage can be a complex and confusing subject, so we've included many articles in the Beverage Factory knowledge base on the art of aging wine, including a handy list of Wines Ripe for Aging.