Are you aware that wine occasionally tastes better if you leave it for some time? The traditionally labeled wines have a certain age at which they’re more delightful on the palate than at other times. However, that may not be true of all table wines. For the purposes of this article, we will look at the traditionally labeled wines specifically.
Wine has many interesting characteristics. Were you aware that it is the chemical compound of the wine that makes up its tasty flavors? Read on to find out what it is that makes wine develop interesting flavor as it ages.
What Makes Wine Taste Better with Age?
Wine has been aged since the time of the ancient Greeks, who used to make straw wine. The latter aged beautifully, due to its high sugar-content. We also know about the early Romans, who used to prefer keeping wines for later use. The Bible certainly mentions old wine as superior to new. So, this is not a new phenomenon.
What happens to wine as it ages is that sugars, acids and phenolic compounds interact to create a
pleasing flavor. It can change the color, aroma and feel of wine in the mouth. It’s not important to know everything about phenolic compounds in this article. However, one phenolic compound called tannin, is central to how wine develops. This is actually the same compound found in black tea.
Tannin is found in the stems, skins and seeds of grapes. It gives this alcoholic drink a dry texture – something all red-wine lovers are aware of when they get a dry mouth after drinking it.
So, do all wines contain high amounts of tannins? The short answer is ‘no’. White and rose wines are not steeped in the skins of the grape for very long, so they have fewer tannins. White wine does pick some up from the grapes but also gets some from being aged in casks.
White wine has a natural acidity which will give it a better flavor over time. So, wines like Pinot Noir and Sangiovese will taste better because they have a low pH – in other words, they’re more acidic.
To go back to the topic of tannins – red wine has more tannins. This compound can preserve wines for 40 years or more. It’s bitter and astringent in the first few years of the life of a wine.
The bitter taste disappears over time, leaving the body of a wine with a pleasant bouquet, or aroma. This bouquet, in turn, improves over time, leaving a smooth, rich alcoholic beverage.
Tannins are not the only feature that contribute to the aging of wine. Temperature plays a role too. If the wine gets too warm, it will begin to oxidize. It is extremely sensitive, and will perish when oxidization occurs. The molecules start to take on extra oxygen, and therefore break down. This will make the wine age quickly, and become undrinkable.
The ideal cool temperature for a wine is between 50°F and 55°F.
This means that you’ll have to ensure that your wine is kept in a cellar or appliance like a fridge where the temperature can be carefully regulated.
The amount of moisture in the air is another factor in the aging of wine. If the air is too dry, the cork will crumble, and allow oxygen to enter the bottle, causing oxidation. You know from what you have just read what happens during oxidation.
If the air is too moist, on the other hand, mold will congregate around the cork. This makes a wine go bad, which could affect your health if consumed.
If you’re going to store wine, make sure you have a humidity-regulator in the cellar. You don’t want to waste your investment.
So, now that you know about the process, and what goes into a wine’s good taste, you’re probably asking the question: how long does wine have to age before you can drink it?
How Long Can Wine Age Before It Goes Bad?
The answer to the question of what age a wine has to be before it is at its optimum drinkability depends on a couple of factors. Mostly, it has to do with whether the wine is red, white or rosé. If a wine is red, it is going to take some time to age well. If white or rosé, it will not often last over 20 years.
The other factor is that different wines have different optimum years for drinking. Let’s look at some charts.
Red Wine Ageing Chart
You’ll want a handy list for your shopping bag, so here are some of the more well-known wines and their optimum ages.
|Name of Wine||Optimum years|
|Cabernet Sauvignon||5 – 20|
|Merlot||2.5 – 20|
|Syrah||2.5 – 15|
|Pinot Noir||2.5 – 15|
|Grenache||2.5 – 15|
|Monastrell||6 – 20|
|Zinfandell||2.5 – 6|
|Tempranillo||7 – 25|
|Sangiovese||10 – 25|
|Nebbiolo||15 – 30|
|Cabernet Franc||5 – 15|
|Tannat||10 – 25|
|Aglianico||10 – 25|
White Wine Ageing Chart
|Name of Wine||Optimum Years|
|Chardonnay||2.5 – 10|
|Riesling||0 – 5|
|Viura||2.5 – 10|
|Chenin Blanc||1 – 10|
|Moscato||0 – 2.5|
|Sauvignon Blanc||0 – 7.5|
|Semillon||1 – 10|
|Garganega||1 – 5|
|Viognier||2.5 – 7.5|
|Torrontes||0 – 5|
|Arinto||2.5 – 12.5|
You can tell from the above charts that red wine is generally not great when older than 20 years, and white wine is best before 10 years of age.
You can always check with your local wine merchant on a wine’s optimum time for storage, and then keep it at a strictly regulated temperature in order to preserve it well for the required period.
But, what about those wines that are still fruity and smooth after 100 years of storage? There are some such wines, but they’re few and far between. Read on to find out about these very special wines.
Can You Drink 100-year-old Wine?
On the whole, the answer to the question as to whether you can drink 100-year-old wines is ‘no’.
However, some red wines such as Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Barolo, Amarone, and Chianti will last up to 70 years.
Then there are a few sweet liquor wines that last over 120 years: Porto, Sherry (Xeres), Madeira, and Marsala. In fact, a reporter recently opened up a 172-year-old Madeira, and described it as fruity.
How to Tell If Wine Has Gone Bad?
Now that you know that wine can keep for long periods of time, how will you know if a wine has gone bad?
Firstly, don’t drink a wine that has been open for days. Once you open it, use it within the amount of time recommended by the vintners.
It Goes Cloudy
If a wine goes cloudy, or leaves a film on the glass, you can be certain it is no longer any good. Throw it out. It’s not good for your health.
It Changes Color
Red wine changes to brown when it oxidizes. This is a good sign it needs to be poured down the drain.
It May Have Tiny Bubbles
Tiny bubbles present in the wine indicate fermentation. Throw it out.
The Smell Changes
It may smell very sharp, like vinegar, or nutty, or like cabbage or garlic. This means that bacteria are growing. Don’t drink it.
Also Read: What Happens If You Drink Bad Wine?
In summary, some red wines do age well, but most wines can only be kept for between 15 and 30 years.
So, are there any of your bottles that are now at their best? Enjoy!