Whenever I release a new wine I am often asked to predict its age-worthiness. If a wine is “age-worthy” it implies that it will improve with aging. While it is undeniable that wines change with aging, it is questionable whether these changes are always positive. During aging chemical reactions take place that alter the flavor and mouthfeel of the wine. As a result, some compounds are depleted, some are created and others are modified. In general the fruity flavors are depleted, the tannins soften and the wine may acquire more depth. If the wine is well extracted and it has more layers of flavors than just fruit, it has a better potential of improving with aging.
A few of the factors that affect the age-worthiness of the wine are:
- Variety – some grape varieties are rich in fruity flavors while others have flavors that can be described as earthy, spicy and savory. Some other varieties may have both categories of flavors at varying levels. Wines that have high levels of fruity flavors are generally more limited in their age-worthiness.
- Viticulture – practices that promote uniform ripening of the fruit on the vine will make wines with the potential of higher age-worthiness.
- Winemaking – a style that promotes better extraction with properly ripened fruit will enhance the chances of longer aging.
Thus, even if a wine is inherently fruity, but it was grown in a vineyard that enables uniform ripening, it was harvested at its optimum ripeness and thoroughly extracted during vinification, it will have a better chance of aging well.
A wine’s quality changes like a bell shaped curve. During the first few years of aging its quality will usually improve, then it will level off and stays flat for a few additional years and finally it will start declining. While I have not seen any scientific proof to that effect, some “experts” in the field claim that a wine will remain in its high level of quality after it peaks, for as many years that it took for the wine to reach the peak.
I must confess that I am a passionate collector and a hoarder; I have wines in my cellar from the early 80’s. Sometimes it is very exciting to open a bottle from the distant past and enjoy its unusual qualities that you would never get in a young wine no matter how well it was made. But for every bottle that turns up like this, I get at least 5 that are very disappointing with some that are so bad that could be undrinkable.
Statistically, 90% of the wines produced in the world are consumed within one year from bottling, 99% are used within 5 years and only 1% of the wines sold are aged. If you decide that aging is your thing, I would recommend putting aside at least 6 bottles of the same wine, preferably 12, in a place that you can control the temperature, ideally at 58 degrees. Don’t wait for 10 years or longer to find out how well your wine is aging. Open your first bottle after 2 years and continue opening a bottle every two years. Maintain good records and when you feel that the quality leveled off, drink the remaining of the wine within the next year. Don’t take any chances unless you want to use the wine as soy sauce with your Chinese food.