Why would I age a wine? How do I know which wines to age?

These questions were thrown at me recently. At first, my response was simple – because it’s just better.

But that’s not the case for all wines. Some wines don’t benefit from age. So how do you know which ones do and which ones don’t?

The answer, which initially seemed short n’ sweet, became long, convoluted, and kinda confusing. Here’s my attempt to answer, in as few words as possible.

Question 1: Why would I age a wine?

Primarily, you’d do this for flavour development. There are a couple ways that flavour development can occur.

  1. Through fruit development

Example: If a wine has fresh red fruit, like cherry, raspberry, red plum, cranberry, over time, these flavours have the potential to develop into more complex flavours of dried red fruit, cooked red fruit (like cherry pie) or even flavours of fig and prune.

  1. Through tertiary flavour development

This occurs through bottle aging. We don’t even know why this happens, but if you leave a wine in the right conditions, the phenolic compounds will interact with each other and change. The result? Complexity! Flavours like leather, tobacco leaf, earthiness, mushroom, and game.

I get it… leather, leaves, earth in my wine? Why would I want that?

All I can say is that once you’ve tried a wine of this complexity and quality, you’ll get it. For some, this is what you call the “AHA!” moment.

Fun fact: Some believe that storage in certain cellars – cellars like the centuries-old caves of Burgundy, for example – will contribute an unquantifiable and unique dimension to the wine.

Question 2: How do I know which wines to age?

This one is a little trickier. There are some general truths about which wines benefit from age – Bordeaux, Rioja, Barolo, California Cabernet Sauvignons, etc – these will pretty much always benefit from aging. This is because these wines have the right structure required for aging. Tannins and acidity – think of these as the backbone holding your wine together. Basically, a wine high in tannins and acidity has more potential to age than a wine with lower tannin and acidity.

Another general truth is that wines worth aging are costly – they involve a lot of time, energy, and precision to create. There’s no sense aging a $12 Jackson-Triggs red blend, it’ll taste like vinegar in a few years.

Example: Bordeaux blends

  • Tannin: Your typical Bordeaux contains a blend of grapes that have been assembled to ensure that it contains a structure that will withhold the tests of time. A young Bordeaux is very high in tannins – so much so, that it might not even be pleasant to drink – think sandpaper along your tongue. Over time, tannins soften, and that sandpaper will turn into a velvety smooth feel.
  • Fruit: The wine also needs to have enough fruit at the beginning. If it lacks fruit, whatever fruit that was initially there, will drop off over time, leading to an exceptionally bland and boring wine.
One sign of an aged wine is a “brick” colour around the rim of the glass. There will also be more layers of colour, compared to a young wine.

One final note – if you’re still unsure if the bottle you’re purchasing is meant to age, ask someone! People at establishments that sell wine are most likely educated about the topic and will be able to help you out. If they can’t, you’re at the wrong store, and there’s definitely no bottle there worth your time and money.

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