Since I began writing Wine Experts Guide and became the official “wine expert” among my peers hardly a week goes by that I’m not asked the question “How can I tell if I should store a wine or not?” I suppose this comes as no surprise to many of you, after all you’ve probably come across a younger wine at some point and thought wow, a lot better than I expected but it’s a little harsh, perhaps it would improve with age.
Even if this has never occurred to you there’s a reasonable chance you’ve asked yourself “is this a wine for pouring or a wine for storing?” The answer will always be “well…… that depends”. Some wines are meant to be drunk young, take the quirky bird line for example – it literally says so on the bottle. This is typical of new world wines which are released into the wine ready to drink (RTD) others however are expected to be aged becoming ever better as they develop.
In short assuming proper storage a wine may
- Improve with age
- Deteriorate or “tire”
- Sit in a bottle changing little until eventually it passes its prime.
How Do Wines Normally Fare Stored in Bottles
While the acidity, sweetness and alcohol content of the wine will change relatively little they will change. The most noticeable development however will be found in the tannins, these break down overtime (much in the same way as when they are aerated – exposed to oxygen) becoming subtler as the wine ages. While a young wine will have a nose and palate derived from the grape itself, typically described as fruity, floral, peppery, these will give way to flavours and aromas arising from the production process itself eliciting descriptions of spiced, toasted, or oaked. Over more protracted periods these will give way to a tertiary flavour that evolves with age, cedar, tobacco etc
Unfortunately not all wines were produced in such a way as to create these secondary and tertiary flavour palettes. Consequently not all wines will benefit from aging.
How can you determine if a wine is fit for aging?
The simplest way is unfortunately the more expensive. Buy two bottles and open one! To determine a wines suitability for storage three factors need to be determined
A wine with low acidity was never intended for storage, higher acidity allows the wine to stay fresh while the wine evolves. Attempting to store a wine without adequate acidity will simply leave you with an old disappointing and lifeless bottle so take a sip, if your mouth waters the wine has storage potential.
A red wine without tannin is a Pinot Noir….. sorry forgive my little joke. In reality all wine have some tannins but as this comes primarily from the grape skins themselves this this impacts more heavily on red wines ability to age. Put simply if a young wine lacks the fruity flowery aroma associated with its age until it has been allowed to breathe and leaves you with a dry tongue then the wine is said to be ‘tight’ and will likely evolve well in the bottle.
Consider the varietal, if the dominant fruit, herb or spice flavours are untempered and the tannins and acidity arrive separately the wine is poorly integrated and should find a middle ground with aging.
If the above conditions don’t apply then that lightly acidic wine with no tannins and a sweet fruity finish is a one night stand, not a wine to take home to mum.