Everyone loves a good bottle a wine – from experienced winemakers, to celebrities, to people who are new to the world of wine. This is because there’s a certain delight in bringing a perfectly aged bottle of wine out of your cellar, knowing that you’re about to enjoy it at its absolute peak. The combination of the vintner’s art and the investment of your time and care in storing it can transform an ordinary tipple into something sublime. However, time does not treat all wines equally, and it’s important to be aware of how exactly the different vintages in your wine cellar will age.
Each different wine will reach its peak – the point at which this evolution of flavours and aromas has reached its zenith – at a different time. If you’re cellaring wine for investment’s sake, you’ll often want to sell it as it reaches this point, so the purchaser can enjoy it immediately. If you collect wine for your own enjoyment, you’ll want to keep track of the different peaks in your collection so that you can enjoy them at the appropriate time.
You can, of course, ascertain the peak drinking period for any given vintage simply by looking it up online; our personalised online portfolio management platform, Spiral Library, makes this exceptionally easy. As well as recording the details of each bottle in your portfolio, it pulls in data from leading wine websites to ensure that you have all the information you need on drinking windows at your fingertips.
However, if you also have an understanding of the processes involved, you’ll have a much more intimate knowledge of the wines in your collection– and you’ll always be able to select an impressive bottle at a moment’s notice.
There are many factors which will affect the ageing of your wine, many of which take place well before it reaches you. Certain grapes are more likely to make age-worthy wines, but the conditions in which they are grown and harvested also have an effect. Then, too, there is the intention of the vintner; some wines are intended to be drunk whilst they are young. This is the kind of information you should ascertain when you make your acquisitions.
The ageing of wine is driven by the interactions of its sugars, acids and phenolic compounds, particularly tannins. Their continued reactions change the profile of the wine; altering its aroma, colour and body. In red wines, this process can soften a harsh young wine, giving it a more complex bouquet, a brighter colour, and a gentler touch on the palate.
White wines, on the whole, do not tend to age well; the way they are made reduces contact with the skins of the grapes, from which the wine gains most of its tannins. Without the tannins, then, the ageing process simply doesn’t apply in the same way.
This is not to say that all white wines should be drunk young; some do age well, particularly those with high acidity and a fuller body. In such wines, the colour deepens with time and the richness and complexity of the flavours evolves.
Once a wine, whether red or white, has passed its peak, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s undrinkable; however, the same processes will continue to change the flavour and most wines will reach a point where they are noticeably old or musty, and you will regret not drinking them sooner.
One factor to watch out for is the so-called “dumb phase”; in Bordeaux this is called the age ingrat and is comparable to a bratty adolescent. A wine may slip into the dumb phase during ageing, during which time its flavours and aromas become muted. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this means it is over-aged – this could lead to you discarding a wine that still has great potential.
So, if you understand how the ageing process affects the flavour profile of the wine, you should be able to choose a good wine for cellaring by tasting it when it’s young. In addition, there are a number of varieties which tend towards a good ageing potential, a few of which we have listed below.
Look for wines with a high level of acidity, low to medium levels of alcohol, and a note of phenolic bitterness. Volatile acidity from acetic acid should be low, as it will tend towards a faster-ageing wine.
Riesling – 5-15 years for dry varieties, 10-20 years for semi-sweet varieties, 10-30 or more years for sweet varieties.
Hungarian Furmint – particularly botrytized dessert wines, with some ageing well at over a century
Loire Valley Chenin Blanc – amongst the longest lived wines, some varieties lasting a potential century. 10-30 years is common.
Choose vintages which have moderate to high levels of both acidity and tannins; not overwhelmingly so, however, as you need to have a notable level of fruit flavours to ensure that the wine will retain its balance as these flavours fade. Again, alcohol levels should generally be moderate; although some high alcohol reds will age well, higher alcohol levels can encourage faster oxidisation. Finally, as with whites, the volatile acidity from acetic acid should be low.
Syrah (Shiraz) – Tend to be best after aging between 4 and 16 years
Classified Bordeaux – A classic for cellaring, Bordeaux is generally well-aged between 5-20 years, but some vintages will last well beyond this.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Another classic favourite, which may age well up to 20 years.
Whilst both red and white wines benefit from a similar controlled humidity level, whites can be stored at a cooler temperature than reds; if the temperature varies in your cellar or wine room, choose the cooler sections for your white wines. At Spiral Cellars, we’ll be pleased to advise you on how to achieve these conditions – simply contact us on 0203 815 3329 or request a brochure.