For those interested in maturing wine the question 'Does wine get better with age' is probably a resounding "Yes". However, there are a multitude of factors that have to be in place for a wine to get better with age as not every wine does.
Wines evolve with bottle age
The truth of it is, not all wine gets better with age. If a wine is already mature and has reached its peak, it will begin a slow decline. If the wine is meant for early drinking, like a simple house wine or Beaujolais Nouveau, the top quality it has is freshness and there will not be enough structure to the wine for it to improve with age. If a wine has the structure, but you leave it outside of a freestanding wine fridge, in direct sunlight or at a warm temperature, it will not only not get better with age, it will spoil. However, assuming we're talking about a bottle of fine wine, with enough structure to have the potential to age and it has been kept or you are keeping it in a cellar or wine fridge, then yes, it has the ability to evolve and in the eyes of many, get 'better' with age.
Which wines get better with age?
If you ask the general population which wines improve with age, they invariably think that it's only red wines that improve with age. However, ask a sommelier or a wine collector this question and they'll know that the colour is not the factor that decides if a wine can age, but the compounds in the wine and the process of winemaking that the wine undertook before reaching the bottle. Some of the finest mature wines in the world are from Burgundian Chardonnay or Mosel Riesling (not made from red grapes!).
Two factors are vitally important to whether a wine will improve with age and they are i) the grapes that went into that wine and whether they have sufficient tannins and acidity to allow the development of tertiary characteristics and ii) if the wine has spent time on its lees and in barrel where more tannin and structure can be added.
Which grapes are best creating wines that can mature?
When it comes to maturing wine, there are certain grapes that stand out as ideal for this purpose. While different grape varieties can be used to create wines that age well, some are more suited for the task than others.
Cabernet Sauvignon is widely considered to be one of the best grapes for maturing wine. It’s known for its deep, dark colour, strong tannins, and concentrated flavours. These characteristics make Cabernet Sauvignon an ideal grape for long-term aging, as these traits help the wine to develop complexity and intensity over time. When aged, Cabernet Sauvignon wines often develop notes of tobacco, leather, and dark fruits.
Another great grape variety for maturing wine is Syrah. This grape is known for its bold, spicy flavours and firm tannins. Syrah wines tend to be deeply coloured and full-bodied, which helps them to develop complexity as they age. Aged Syrah wines often express notes of black pepper, dark fruits, and leather.
Merlot is another popular choice for maturing wine. This grape is known for its soft tannins and deep, dark colour. When aged, Merlot wines often develop notes of cherries, plums, and herbs. The soft tannins help the wine to remain smooth and velvety, even after long-term aging.
Malbec is another great choice for maturing wine. This grape is known for its deep colour, bold tannins, and intense flavours. Aged Malbec wines often develop notes of dark fruits, spice, and pepper. The bold tannins help the wine to remain structured, even after long-term aging.
Pinot Noir and the fine wines of Burgundy are world famous for their ability to evolve into complex and delicious wines if their tannins and acidity are in balance. Tempranillo too, with the right winemaking processes, creates some of the longest lived wines in the wine world.
The most popular and well-known white wine grapes for maturing wines are Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay is a high-acid, full-bodied white wine grape that is used to make some of the world’s most famous white wines. It is often aged in oak barrels to develop complex aromas and flavours. Riesling is a high-acid, aromatic white wine grape that is used to make some of the world’s most age-worthy white wines. It can be aged for many years and still retain its freshness and complexity. Sauvignon Blanc is a high-acid, crisp white wine grape that is used to make some of the world’s most popular white wines. It can also be aged and develop complex aromas and flavours.
Wines made from a blend of grapes, like in Bordeaux, also can improve with age, thanks to the qualities of the grapes used in those blends (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) and the long time spent in oak and during fermentation.
What winemaking techniques help in the creation of wines that can mature?
Extracting flavour, complexity, tannins and acidity from the grapes to make a wine that has the ability to mature and develop tertiary characteristics is an art and a carefully guarded recipe passed down from winemaking generation to generation that begins even before fermentation with the pruning and training of the vines! However, there are some key winemaking techniques that really do help create a young wine that will evolve into a wine that can get better with age.
Batonage is a process of stirring the lees in a barrel or tank of wine. It is also sometimes referred to as "lees stirring" or "lees stirring/mixing". The goal of batonage is to increase the complexity of the wine by adding oxygen and providing additional surface area for the lees to interact with the wine.
In the winemaking process, the grapes are crushed and the juice is fermented into wine. After fermentation, the wine is left on the lees (dead yeast cells). The lees are composed of proteins, polysaccharides, and other compounds that were released by the yeast during fermentation. These compounds can add complexity to the wine and can also give it a creamy texture and mouthfeel.
Batonage involves stirring the lees with a baton or paddle. The process usually takes place in a barrel or tank, but can also be done in a bottle. The baton is used to mix the wine and lees together and to create a homogenous suspension of the lees in the wine. The goal is to introduce oxygen into the wine, which aids in the development of its flavour and aroma.
Barrel aging is a centuries-old practice used to improve the flavour, colour, and texture of wine. By storing wine in barrels made of wood, winemakers are able to create a unique flavour profile that sets their wines apart from the competition. While it’s not a requirement for winemakers to use barrels to age their wines, those who do so can benefit from a number of advantages.
First, barrel aging adds complexity to wines. As the wine is exposed to the wood, it absorbs the flavours of the wood, which can include notes of vanilla, toast, and spice. The longer the wine is stored in the barrel, the more time it has to take on these flavours. This adds complexity and depth to the finished product, which is especially important for high-end wines.
Second, barrel aging can also help to soften the tannins in wines. Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that give wine its bitterness. By aging wine in barrels, the tannins become less aggressive and the flavours are more balanced. This makes the wine easier to drink and more enjoyable for most people.
Third, barrel aging can affect the colour of wine. As the wine spends time in the barrel, it absorbs the tannins and other compounds in the wood, which can darken the colour of the wine. This is especially true for red wines, as the tannins darken the colour and give them a deep, rich hue.
Finally, barrel aging can also help to improve the texture of wine. As the wine is exposed to the wood, it takes on some of the wood’s components, which can give the wine a smoother, creamier texture. This can be especially beneficial for red wines, as they often have a rough, tannic texture without the aid of barrel aging.
Whole bunch fermentation is a type of winemaking process that involves fermenting the grapes with their stems still attached. The process is used mainly for red wines, as it produces a more complex, full-bodied flavour profile. Whole bunch fermentation can be a difficult process to master, but it is becoming increasingly popular among winemakers due to its ability to bring out unique flavours.
The process begins with the grapes being picked and sorted. The grapes are then destemmed, meaning the stalks are removed, and the grapes are placed into a fermentation vessel. The grapes are then crushed, either by hand or mechanically, and the juice is allowed to macerate with the skins. During this time, the temperature is kept at a constant level, generally no more than 77 degrees Fahrenheit, as higher temperatures can cause the grapes to release too much tannin.
As the fermentation begins, the grapes continue to macerate and the juice is slowly released. During this time, the yeast and other microorganisms will begin to convert the sugars in the grapes into alcohol. As the fermentation process continues, the wine will develop complexity and structure.
The length of time for whole bunch fermentation can vary depending on the style of wine. Generally, lighter, more aromatic wines are fermented for a shorter period of time, while heavier, more tannic wines are fermented for a longer period of time.
Whole bunch fermentation is a great way to bring out unique flavours in a wine. It can add complexity, structure, and vibrancy to a wine. It can be a difficult process to perfect, however, as the winemaker must keep a close eye on the fermentation and ensure that the temperature is constantly kept at a consistent level.
Whole bunch fermentation is becoming increasingly popular among winemakers, and it is an exciting way to bring out unique flavours in a wine. With careful monitoring of the fermentation process, winemakers can produce wines with depth, complexity, and vibrancy.
How does the vintage contribute to the wine maturation?
The grape growing season can have a huge impact on the quality of a wine. From the type of grape that is grown to the climate during the growing season, the conditions during this time period will affect the flavour, aroma, and overall quality of the wine.
First, the type of grape and the climate during the growing season will determine the flavour and aroma of the wine. Different grapes offer different flavours and aromas, so the type of grape grown will affect the wine’s overall profile. For example, a Cabernet Sauvignon will have a different flavour than a Chardonnay. In addition, the climate during the growing season will affect the flavour and aroma of the wine. If it is too hot, the grapes may become overripe, resulting in a higher sugar content and an alcohol content that is too high. On the other hand, if it is too cold, the grapes may become underripe, resulting in a wine that is too acidic and lacks flavour.
Second, the quality of the soil will have an effect on the wine. The soil type, pH level, and mineral content will all affect the flavour and aroma of the wine. If the soil is too rich in nitrogen, the grapes may become over-fertilized and produce a wine that is overly acidic. On the other hand, if the soil is too deficient in nitrogen, the grapes may become under-fertilized, resulting in a wine that lacks flavour and aroma.
Third, the amount of sunlight and water during the growing season will affect the quality of the wine. Too much sunlight can cause the grapes to become overripe, resulting in a higher sugar content and an alcohol content that is too high. On the other hand, too little sunlight can cause the grapes to become under-ripe, resulting in a wine that is too acidic and lacks flavour. Similarly, too much water can cause the grapes to become over-hydrated, resulting in a wine that is too watery and lacks flavour. On the other hand, too little water can cause the grapes to become under-hydrated, resulting in a wine that is overly acidic and lacks flavour.
Finally, the harvesting process will also affect the quality of the wine. The type of harvesting technique used, the timing of the harvest, and the care taken during the harvesting process will all affect the flavour, aroma, and overall quality of the wine. In general, grapes should be harvested when they are ripe to ensure that the flavours, aromas, and overall quality of the wine is optimal.
Overall, the grape growing season has a huge impact on the quality of a wine. From the type of grape to the climate during the growing season to the harvesting process, many factors will affect the flavour, aroma, and overall quality of the wine. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the grape growing season in order to ensure that the resulting wine is of the highest quality.
How does wine storage contribute to wine maturation?
In order to mature and realise the fullest expression and potential of any wine the storage needs to be ideal. Wine doesn't like light, heat, cold, humidity, vibration or bad odours when maturing. Any of these can cause the wine to spoil either by speeding up the maturation process in the case of heat, exciting and dispersing flavour compounds with vibration or causing oxidation with incorrect humidity. If your wine is kept poorly it will spoil and not have the chance to improve with age.
Which wines should be drunk young?
Some wines were crafted to be drunk young. Simple wines with no time on the lees, no time in barrel, wines that thrive on freshness like most sparkling wines, most rose wines and most simple, non classified or village wines are really best drunk within a year or two.
Which wines improve with bottle age?
Wine that has the exact opposite characteristics to young wines. Wines that have spent years in barrel, made from grapes with lots of tannin/acidity from classified DOCG or AOC and riserva wines. Wines like Rioja Gran Reserva, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Classified Growth Bordeaux, Vintage Champagne, Premier or Grand Cru Burgundy, Napa Cabs etc, will all improve with bottle age.
However, even some 'cheaper' wines like most Sagrantino di Montefalco, Tannat or Nebbiolo Langhe can happily improve over 10-20 years.
How does a mature wine taste?
As wine matures they lose their initial freshness and fruit characteristics and these are replaced with tertiary flavours and aromas. Tertiary characteristics are usually not as obvious as primary and secondary ones, and they can take a while to become noticeable. These characteristics can include notes of spice, dried fruit, leather, tobacco, and nuttiness. They can also add a certain depth and complexity to the flavour of the wine, making it more interesting and balanced.
A great example of a wine with tertiary characteristics is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. As this wine ages and is exposed to oxygen, it develops a nutty, earthy flavour and a smooth, velvety texture. The dried fruit and spice notes become more pronounced and the complexity of the wine increases.
Other examples of wines with tertiary characteristics include Port and Sherry. Port wines are heavily fortified and aged in oak barrels, resulting in a rich and complex flavour. Sherry is a fortified wine made from a blend of white grapes, and it is aged in a solera system. This process results in a wine with aromas of nuts, dried fruits, and spice, and a velvety texture.
Tertiary characteristics can also be found in certain types of sparkling wines, such as Champagne and Cava. These wines are aged in the bottle and the yeast produces flavours of brioche, toast, and nuts. These aromas, combined with the complexity of the bubbles, make for a delicious and unique drinking experience.
Finally, some red wines are aged in oak barrels for extended periods of time, resulting in tertiary characteristics such as vanilla, baking spices, and toasted notes. This can add an interesting twist to the flavour of the wine and can also contribute to its texture.
In conclusion, do wines get better with age, like everything in wine and in life, 'better' is in the eye of the beholder. Wines evolve with age, all wines, but only a handful of the wine produced in the wine world, actually gets better with age. Most wine production is made to be consumed young.