Picture this, you have two glasses filled with the finest wines sitting in front of you. Each was made from the same grapes and from the same vines, but 15 years apart. The glass on the left is young, scented with ripe berries, and when you take a sip it covers your mouth with tart bitterness. You swallow, and your mouth feels dry and slightly chalky.
The glass on your right smells like earth and leather. The fruitiness is still there, but its taste is subtler and mixed with chocolate, licorice, and leather. You swallow, and your mouth feels fuzzy and warm. The flavors taper off slowly.
Now you start cogitating why those wines taste so different when they were produced from the same vine.
Really? Why is that?
The secret to this phenomenon is because wines taste better when they age. People have appreciated the benefits of wine aging since the days of the ancient Greeks, who produced straw wine, capable of aging due to its high sugar content. The early Romans prized Falernian and Surrentine wines because they could be stored for decades.
Even in the Bible, it was foretold that aged wine taste better, Luke 5:39, says, “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
The Secret for Tasty Aging
Aged wine tastes better because of a complex chemical reaction occurring among sugars, acids, and substances known as phenolic compounds. In time, this chemical reaction can affect the taste of wine in a way that gives it a pleasing flavor. However, there is wide agreement that the most critical factor in the aging of wine is tannins.
“Tannins are present in all grapes and are generally produced by the plant as defensive compounds,” said Jim Kennedy, an enologist at California State University, Fresno. Tannins have antifungal properties, but can make the unripe grape taste nasty until the seed is mature. When wine is young, its tannins give it a bitter and astringent flavor. In time, the tannins dissipate and cause the body of the wine to develop its own “bouquet,” or aroma and essence. The bouquet improves over time, imparting a smooth and rich flavor without the bitterness of a younger wine.
Tannins aren’t just salivary spoilsports. They’re also indirectly responsible for a wine’s smell. Tannins don’t have any aromas themselves but react with the wine’s alcohols and esters (acidic alcohols) to gradually subdue the flowery, fruity aromas of youth. Tannins are also combined with other molecules to help create the more complex and fine-smell characteristic of aged wines.
Tannins are a natural preservative, capable of keeping a bottle of wine drinkable for 40 years or longer.
Does All Wine Taste Better With Age?
No, not all wines taste better when they are stored for a long period of time. Tannins alone do not make wine taste better with age, temperature is essential to the bona fide aging of wine. Wine is delicate and perishable. It begins to oxidize when exposed to warm temperatures. This means that when wine molecules take on extra oxygen, they become unstable and begin to break down. Oxidation generates wine to age and becomes undrinkable prematurely.
Hence, a wine storage facility must require consistent cool temperatures and consistent humidity levels, producing mature and tasty wines. For best aging, keep wine at temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 10 to 13 degrees Celsius.
Humidity must be just right to make the wine age at the proper rate. Too much humidity causes mold to accumulate, especially around the cork. Too little humidity causes the cork to crumble, which allows oxygen to enter the bottle and cause oxidation.
Talk to your favorite wine dealer and learn more about the proper aging and storing of wine for a more pleasurable taste.