The Four Ws of Aging Wine
Did you know that only about 1% of wine is meant to be aged? Indeed, 99% of wines that you buy are at their peak the day they’re released and meant to be consumed right away. It certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t drink it later (within 3-5 years) after properly storing it, but it does mean that there are no additional benefits to be gained from a long cellaring process. Since this is the case, we thought it would be helpful to answer the questions that are probably buzzing around in your head on the whole aging wine phenomenon. Since you are the who, let's get into the what, where, and why of aging wine.
Or better yet, which wines? There are specific characteristics to look for when deciding whether or not to cellar your wine. These characteristics include acidity, tannin, alcohol level, residual sugar, and surprisingly, the size of the bottle.
Wines with higher acidity tend to last longer. As wine ages, it slowly loses its acid and flattens out–and nobody wants a flat wine! Basically, the higher the acidity, the longer it lasts.
The amount of tannin content matters as well. Red wines with higher tannins tend to age better than lower tannin red wines. Tannins come from contact to the pips and skins during winemaking and also develop during the oak aging process. These grape and oak tannins need to be well-balanced in order for the wine to age well.
Imagine sipping on a glass of vinegar– that’s what you’d get if you aged an unfortified wine with a high percentage of alcohol. Alcohol can be volatile in the aging process and causes wine to turn to vinegar. It’s best to age unfortified wines with an alcohol percentage below 13.5 percent.
It’s more popular to age dry wines but it turns out that the longest-lived wines tend to be sweeter fortified ones such as Port and Sherry. The addition of a spirit, such as cognac in the wine, helps to preserve the wine for much longer than an unfortified wine.
Last but not least, it turns out that size matters when it comes to aging wine! Large format bottles of red wine age more gracefully than wine in standard sized bottles. Sounds crazy, right? Let us explain.
There is less ullage (the empty space between wine and closure) in a large format bottle of wine, so there is a proportionately smaller amount of air inside the bottle. The air is what causes aging through the process of oxidation. Since there is less oxygen relative to the volume of wine in a large format bottle of wine, the wine oxidizes at a slower pace. The slow process of oxidation positively affects aromas and the overall stability of the wine. Also, large format bottles are made with thicker, heavier glass to protect them from heat, light, and travel-related vibrations, which are all wine’s worst enemies. Given proper storage, large format bottles age at half the speed of 750ml bottle. So yes, bigger is better–at least when it comes to aging wine. Plus, who doesn’t love pulling out magnum size bottles to share with others? It’s a celebration in itself! If you’ve never tried a wine that’s been aged in large format bottles, check out our library wines shop where you’ll find a few magnum options to enjoy.
It’s best to age wine in a cool, dark place, but you probably already knew that so we’ll get a little more specific. Most wines are aged in wine cellars, which are typically underground and designed intentionally for aging wine. However, if you don’t have an underground cellar but still want to have a go at aging your wine, here are some things to keep in mind:
- 55 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature to store wine while aging it.
- Try to avoid temperature swings caused by drafts and/or sunlight.
- High humidity is essential to keeping the cork moist and safe from cracking and letting too much air into the wine.
- The lower the light, the better.
- Leave that bottle alone! Disturbances such as picking up or rotating the wine bottles can disrupt the delicate chain of chemical reactions that leads a wine to mature well.
- Lastly, store the bottle on its side and not upright. It allows the wine to constantly be touching the cork. This is another way to keep the cork moistened and prevents it from drying out.
There are quite a few good reasons to age wine. Perhaps our favorite reason is that a few years of cellaring can make magic happen for a small percentage of quality wines. The additional time in the bottle gives the tannins, acid, fruit, and flavors time to come together to create a beautiful and harmonious song of sorts.
We know you’re probably craving aged wine as much as we are now, so head over to our library wine store where we’ve done the work and patience of aging wine for you. You also won’t have to wait another 10-15 years to fulfill that craving. Cheers and happy aging!