One of the most innately interesting things about wine is its ability to age. That being said, for a wine novice it can be very perplexing to try and figure out which bottles are in for the long haul and which are ready to drink straight off the shelf. And then there’s the really hard part, where you have to find the patience to let that bottle lie there on its side, staring at you, just pleading to be opened. But it’s all worth it, right?
The truth is that as the wine ages it develops different aroma and flavor characteristics. Some people absolutely love this, and just like anything, some don’t. Often, people will splurge on a nice bottled of aged wine in a restaurant and when they have the chance to taste it they give it the stink face. Some might even go so far as to say the wine is spoiled or flat. In most cases, the wine is neither of those things, but instead is reflecting the evolution of the wine in bottle over time.
What Happens During Aging?
- Tannins soften. So while a full-bodied red might have big, chewy, lip-smacking tannins in its youth, after ten or fifteen years the same wine might seemingly have less, and less aggressive tannins.
- Red wines lose color, as white wines gain color. Red wines tend to become more transparent, and can gain hints of orange and brown hues. Whites develop more color, over time turning more golden, and then later developing brown hues.
- Primary fruit aromas develop into, and mix with, secondary aromas. Ideally, some fruit aromas will remain, while more complex aromas develop to accompany them.
Young Wine vs. Aged Wine
Every bottle of wine ages differently, and sometimes the color, smell, or taste can be misleading. However, generally speaking, there are a number of descriptors that are often associated with young and aged wines. Let’s take a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, for example:
Young Wine: full-bodied, fresh, fruity, cassis, ripe, jammy, juicy, clean, spicy, high tannins, grippy tannins, high acid, tight
Aged Wine: full-bodied, dark fruits, earthy, tobacco, cigar box, toasty, charcoal, complex, dense, refined, elegant, drying tannins, soft tannins, smooth, barnyard
See the difference? The first set of descriptors are more fruit oriented, while the second set has more complex aromas, which reflect non-fruit aromas that have developed from age, and/or time in oak.
About the Author
Katie Delaney is a winemaker by trade, Advanced Sommelier, oenophile and founder of The Rebel Wine Collective. She’s seen the wine industry from two very different sides of the spectrum - one of which involves stilettos, and the other steel-toed boots - but the wealth of knowledge that Enology and Viticulture have to offer is what she loves most about the world of wine. Katie spends her days working with, teaching, and learning from wine fanatics.