How to age wine at home
Wine has been maturing for years before it ever reaches your home. The day the grapes are picked and then the process of vinification begins the ageing journey of your wine has begun and its maturation is already in process. A red wine from Barolo or Rioja may have been in cask for many years and then left in bottle for many more years before it reaches your home and in-between this stage was likely stored in warehouses and stores across the country. Your wines journey to its final destination in your wine cabinet has been a long and arduous one and hopefully every pair of hands that it has already passed through has treated it optimally to ensure it arrives for your stint of the maturation process in great shape.
But what is the best way for your to age wine at home? The choices will be many or few depending on the size and location of your home so let's consider the options.
What are the optimal conditions for maturing wine?
When it comes to maturing wine, the best conditions for storing your wine will depend on the type of wine you have, as well as the length of time you plan to store it. Generally speaking, all wines should be kept at a consistent temperature of around 12°C, and at a relative humidity of between 50-80%. This temperature range helps to maintain and evolve the flavour and character of the wine while preventing oxidation. Furthermore, wines should be stored in a dark place away from direct sunlight, as this can cause the wine to age prematurely. The wines need to be protected from UV light so they do not suffer 'light strike' and prematurely age.
Avoid vibration, the stirring up of the enzymes in the wine do not help in long term maturation and will cause rapid onset maturation if left unchecked.
Another optimal condition is pure air, many wine cabinets are fitted with carbon filters that take out and neutralise any bad odours and then the wine fridge fans circulate the pure air. Aromas in our wine fridge can seep into the wine causing off flavours over time.
What are the common mistakes when storing wine at home?
- Vibration - Everyone forgets vibration! We have customers who kept their wine on a rack on top of the washing machine! Keep your wine fridge or wine storage area away from washing machines, the front of a house with a busy road, your cellar if you live close to a metro line.
- Wine Racks in direct sunlight - Another common wine storage mistake is not paying attention to direct sunlight. Direct sunlight through glass not only contains harmful UV rays but sunlight through glass also gets incredibly hot. Over a long summer you could literally cook your wine collection.
- Bad Odours - Kitchens, garages and cellars all have smells that can be intense at times, from garlic to curry, from exhaust fumes to paint and even damp, many a wine lover has forgotten that bad odours can seep in through the cork and cause the wine to spoil.
- Forgotten wine in the attic - The hottest room of all is often the attic. Yes it's dark, but it's also likely to be a long way above that ideal 12°C and by the summer you remember it's up there, it has already turned to vinegar.
- Too cold - Less damaging than 'too hot' but leaving your fine wine to mature in a very cold environment will slow the maturation process right down and could even contribute to dull flavours.
How does wine mature in bottle?
When it comes to understanding the complexities of wine production, one of the most interesting aspects is the maturation that occurs in the bottle. Wine maturing in bottle is a process that has been honed over centuries, and can significantly affect the flavour, aroma, and character of a wine. By understanding the basics of how wine matures in bottle, you can make more informed wine choices and allow your own palate to discover the unique nuances of each bottle.
At its most basic level, wine maturing in bottle is the result of chemical reactions taking place between the wine and the oxygen in the bottle. As the wine ages, it interacts with the oxygen to produce new flavours and aromas. This process, called oxidation, is responsible for the development of complex aromas and flavours in wines. The oxidation process occurs over a period of time and is influenced by factors like temperature, humidity, and the type of bottle used.
The maturation of wine also involves the breakdown of certain compounds. As a wine ages, certain compounds, such as tannins, phenolics, and esters, will break down and create new flavour and aroma components. This breakdown of compounds is especially noticeable in red wines, as the tannins and phenolics soften and round out the flavour profile. The maturation of wine in bottle also involves the development of sediment. Sediment is the result of tiny particles that settle to the bottom of the bottle. This sediment can contribute to the flavour and aroma of a wine, and can also be a useful indication of the age of the wine.
Finally, the maturation of wine in bottle also involves the development of its colour. As a wine ages, the colour will begin to change. This change is due to the oxidation process, as well as the sediment that has settled in the bottle. When it comes to selecting a wine, understanding the maturation process in bottle can be a valuable tool. Wines that have been aged for several years may have developed flavours and aromas that you may not find in a younger wine.
However, it is important to remember that the maturation process is unique to each bottle, and the flavours and aromas of a wine will also be dependent on other factors such as the grape variety and winemaking techniques used. By understanding the maturation process in bottle, you can make more informed decisions about the wines you select. With a better understanding of how wine matures in bottle, you can explore the many nuances of each bottle and discover the unique characteristics of each individual wine.
Now you know how the winemaker uses bottle maturation it should help you understand the importance of your role and protecting the wine, especially a fine wine, for the following 20-30 years of the maturation cycle.
What methods of ageing wine at home are available?
- Your own wine fridge or wine cabinet - If you have a spare 60cm gap in your home you may be able to cellar up to 300 bottles of wines with a wine cabinet. These units are designed specifically to mimic a chateau cellar and has gained incredibly popularity since their inception just a few decades ago.
- Leaving the wine in bond - It's not in your home, but it is maturing and can be pulled out at a moment's notice. Leaving your wine with your wine supplier in bond is a great way to ensure it is maturing safely and it is not taking up space in your home until you want it. The only downside is that you have to pay for the privilege and should you ever want instant access to your wines, it may well take several weeks to organise the shipment.
- Wine racks in the home - Providing the racks are in a dark area with no UV light, a constant mild temperature and out of the way of vibration and bad odours then wine racks offer a cheap way to age a lot of wine in the home.
- Spiral wine cellar - The growing popularity of spiral wine cellars is not only due to Grand Designs and the value they will add to a property but also because of how generally functional they are. Spiral cellars literally create a brand new room for you, underneath your home and are designed in such a way to maximise storage. They are fitted with humidification units and temperature controls and act just like a chateau cellar. The barrier to entry here is cost with a basic spiral cellar costing upwards of £25,0000.
How long should I age a wine at home?
Wine is an ancient beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries, and the aging process plays a significant role in the flavour and quality of the final product. Different varieties of wine require different amounts of time to mature in order to reach their optimal flavour and quality. Depending on the type of wine, the aging process can range from a few months to many years.
For whites, the time needed for maturation ranges from a few months for a simple unoaked Chardonnay to a few years (or decades with White Burgundy) for a full-bodied, oak-aged Chardonnay. Generally speaking, most white wines should be consumed within 1-3 years of the vintage date.
Sparkling wines can also benefit from a few months to a few years of aging, depending on the type. Vintage Champagnes can evolve beautifully over decades and knowing your producer here and their past form will be invaluable.
Red wines are more robust and complex in flavour, and therefore require more time to mature. Light-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir can be consumed within 1-2 years but many of the greatest shouldn't be consumed for a decade, while full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah can take up to 5 years or more to even become approachable.
Fortified wines such as Port and Sherry are also aged for a longer period of time. These wines are usually aged in oak barrels for up to 10 years (or even longer for some Sherry varieties) and should be consumed within 1-2 years of the vintage date.
Wine from high-quality, well-known wineries can age for longer periods of time. These wines tend to have more complex flavours and aromas, and can benefit from additional aging. The best way to determine how long to age a particular wine is to look for the vintage date on the bottle and consult with a knowledgeable wine expert or retailer. Ageing wine is a delicate process that requires patience and knowledge. Different varieties of wine require different amounts of time to reach peak maturity, and it is important to understand the aging process in order to get the most out of your wine. By following the guidelines above, you can ensure that your wine is ready to drink when you want it to be.
How to tell if a wine has been over-aged?
The first thing to understand is that there is no hard and fast rule for when a wine has become too old to drink. Different wines age differently, so the age at which a wine becomes undrinkable can vary from wine to wine even within the same grape type and commune. In general, you should expect that any bottle of wine that is more than a decade old may no longer be drinkable, even from the world's very best producers as it may have been mishandled or from a terrible vintage. When it comes to knowing when a wine has become too old to drink, there are several signs you can look for.
The most obvious sign is the colour of the wine. As a wine ages, it will gradually become more and more brown in colour, eventually losing its vibrancy as the colour fades. If you notice your wine is significantly darker than when you first opened a bottle of the same wine years before, it’s likely too old to drink. Another sign of a wine that has become too old to drink is a lack of aroma or flavour. A total lack of any fruit characteristics on the nose will give it away. As a wine ages, it will slowly lose its flavour and aroma, eventually becoming bland and unappealing. If you notice the aromas and flavours of your wine have diminished significantly, it’s likely past its prime.
Finally, if you notice the wine has a sour or bitter taste, it’s likely too old to drink. This is usually caused by the breakdown of tannins in the wine, which can lead to a sour or bitter flavour. If you notice any of these flavours, it’s best to discard the wine. Knowing when a wine has become too old to drink is important for both safety and enjoyment. By familiarising yourself with the signs of an aging wine, you can ensure that you’re drinking the best wine possible and avoid any potential health risks.
Which are the best wine fridges for long term maturation?
Often the most practical solution for long term wine ageing would be a wine cabinet with a solid door, carbon filter, humidity controls, high efficiency and low vibration (so quality compressor and shelving). Sadly not all homes are fitted with their own walk in wine cellars so many times, and especially in the city, a wine fridge is the best option.
The best wine cabinets made exclusively for wine ageing come from Climadiff and Artevino, however, they are not the most attractive cabinets. If you're happy to switch out the solid door for a UV protected, triple glazed door then also consider Swisscave and Vin Garde wine cabinets. The Swisscave Premium edition with humidity control and sapele shelves are second only to the Eurocave brand and our pick for the very best wine fridges for ageing wine at home.