Wine: To Age or Not to Age

Wine: To Age or Not to Age

A common question posed by wine consumers is, “How long should I age this bottle of wine?”  The question implies that every bottle of wine will improve with age.  However, in most cases, the answer is, “Drink it now!”

According to the Wine Institute, more than 26 billion liters of wine were produced worldwide in 2011.  Of that amount, less than 10% were destined for the cellar.  Most wine is meant to be consumed shortly after production, or perhaps with a few years of age, depending on the type of grape.

The industry considers it a readily consumable product of which more is produced with each year’s grape harvest.   The grape growers and wine makers grow and ferment these grapes in such a way that the wine is fine to drink young and does not have the “right stuff” to age.

The Wine Right Stuff

oak-barrel-aging

So what is the right stuff?  The small percent of age-worthy wines destined for the cellar are: made from high quality grapes that have the proper chemical composition; undergo a more stringent and specialized fermentation process; and then the finished wine is usually stored for longer periods in high quality oak barrels.   These are just three major criteria that age-worthy wines share but there are many.

What’s FAAT Got to Do with Wine?

In my classes, the first topic is the “FAAT” acronym.   These are the four components (three in the case of white wines) that all wines must have, and in the proper amounts and proportion to each other.

FRUIT is the amount of grape extract that is crushed into the juice to start fermentation.  Usually the more, the better.  This gives the wine its deep fruity, floral, spicy flavors.

ACID, at the proper level, will help to keep oxidation in check, inhibit the growth of unwanted micro-organisms, and give the wine its fresh and lively profile on the palate.

ALCOHOL, not too much—not too little, gives the wine structure, body, and mouth feel.   This is the favorite part for some people!

TANNIN exists only in the seeds, stems, and skins of red grapes.   It is this chemical component that actually dissolves into the wine as it ages, and converts it from being rough and disjointed in youth to being rich, smooth and complex after proper aging.

When an age-worthy wine is purchased by consumers, they really should not drink it “before it’s time.”   Why?   Because without the proper amount of aging, the components (see FAAT above) will not have had time to coalesce, but rather they will be out of balance with each other and can be quite unappealing.

wine-aging-in-bottles

For people in the trade, it is not that enjoyable to taste (let alone drink!) an age-worthy wine in its extreme youth.  We do it to analyze its quality level and aging potential but not to consider taking a bottle home to drink that night.   The magic of a properly aged wine is that it will have evolved into something so much more enjoyable than presented in its youth.

By Len Gulino

What wines do you especially cherish? Let us know by posting below.

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