Master of Wine Peter Scudamore-Smith explains why and when you should age wines, along with tips on how to age wine successfully.
In the world of wine, it has been said that ‘great wine needs time’. Many age-worthy wines are released and consumed too young and well before they have reached optimal maturity. It’s a delicate balance between patience and anticipation. In this blog, we’ll explore why, when, and how to age wine like a connoisseur. Whether you’re a seasoned wine enthusiast or someone just starting to appreciate the nuances of wine, we will guide you through the basics, helping you to unlock the unique flavours that come with a bit of patience.
Why should you age wine?
Enjoy wines at their peak
Age-worthy wines will evolve and mature, reaching their peak drinking window after some time in the bottle. Unlike consuming them immediately after bottling, ageing allows the wines to develop in complexity and result in a more integrated and refined wine in the glass, showcasing the winemaker’s vision.
Tame tannins and acidity
Wines high in tannin or acidity at bottling can benefit from ageing. The ageing process softens acidity and allows tannins to integrate, resulting in a smoother and more well-balanced wine.
Enhance by barrel or bottle ageing
It’s not just about how long you age wine but also where it is aged. Winemakers may choose to age wine in oak barrels to impart flavours like nuts and coffee, from micro-oxidation as well as from the oak. New oak will result in stronger oak flavours compared to old oak which will have a more neutral impact on the wine. Ageing wine in bottles allows the tertiary flavours to shine. Many winemakers will choose a combination of barrel and then bottle ageing to craft the final wine flavour profile.
Develop tertiary flavours
The ageing process enables a range of unique tertiary flavours to develop in the wine – the longer the wine ages, the more the flavours will evolve. White wines can mature into flavours like marmalade, ginger and honey, while red wines can develop into flavours like figs, tar, leather and earth.
When should you age wine?
Choose quality over quantity
When ageing wine, it isn’t necessarily about the number of years; it’s important to remember that ‘more doesn’t always equal better’. Only age a wine if the wine itself will be enhanced by age and the end result in the glass will be a better experience for the person enjoying it. If tertiary flavours won’t enhance the wine, then it’s better to release and drink the wine after it is bottled. The same is true when deciding how long to age a wine, which we will explore in the next section.
Choose the right variety
Different grape varieties have different ageing potential based on their acidity, tannins, and flavour intensity. Light, fruit-forward wines like Rosé, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc don’t tend to age well, while high-acid or tannic wines like Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon can evolve and get better with time.
This handy infographic shows how the flavours of these common age-worthy varieties evolve during the ageing process.
How long should you age wine?
White wine vs. red wine
When thinking about how long to cellar your wine, remember that white wines typically don’t age as long as red wines. This is because they’re (generally) not fermented on their grape skins so they have less tannin in the wine, which reduces the overall ageing potential, there are some white varieties which are exceptions.
A matter of personal preference
It’s also important to consider your personal preferences in terms of flavour characteristics. If you enjoy the flavours common in aged wines, then you can comfortably cellar your wine towards the higher end of the ageing window, however, if you only want subtle aged flavour characteristics, then open and enjoy your wine when it’s in the younger end.
Timing is everything
If you are ageing wines, make sure you remember to open them within their optimal drinking window. There is nothing more disappointing than patiently waiting for years (sometimes many years!) to open a special bottle of wine, only to find it has spoiled or is well past its best. You can use a spreadsheet or other cellar management tool to track which wines to drink and when.
Some general guidelines
If you aren’t sure how long to age a wine, we’ve put together some general guidelines based on common red and white varieties. Remember though that ageing potential will vary based on each individual wine, the winemaking methods, the region and vintage variation.
How should you age wine?
Ideal cellaring conditions
Successful ageing requires a carefully controlled environment. For the best results, the cellar should be:
- Kept at a consistent temperature (11 to 14°C). Choose a cooler temperature if you’re wanting to age it for longer.
- Mainly dark with limited if any light source
- Away from any vibrations or movement
- Humidity controlled. Maintain over 70% humidity for cork or long term ageing screw caps. Standard screw caps don’t require humidity control.
The importance of ideal cellaring conditions
These conditions may seem a bit over the top but each of them serve an important purpose and reduce the potential of spoiling your special wines.
- Keeping the wines cool will avoid heat damage to the wine from fluctuating temperatures or hot temperatures which can ‘cook’ the wine and dull the flavours. Common pitfalls are storing wines near washing machines, cars and stovetops which are all heat sources and cause regular fluctuations in the temperature around them. How many times have you seen wine stored in the laundry, garage or kitchen … these are not suitable locations.
- Keeping the wines in a dark location will avoid light strike which is when UV or blue light transforms the amino acids in wine into compounds that smell like damp cardboard or old cabbage.
- Keeping the wines away from sources of vibration reduces the damage that vibration causes when it leads to a decrease in tartaric and succinic acids, causing a reduction in esters, which dulls flavours.
- Keeping the wines in a humidity controlled environment avoids drying out the cork which can compromise the wine and lead to early oxidation of the wine. Ageing wines under screw cap will help avoid this potential issue.
The art of ageing wine creates an elevated drinking experience, allowing the wine to develop and evolve over time. The choice to age a wine depends on the wine’s characteristics, and proper storage is crucial. Settlers Rise embraces this process, offering carefully cellared aged reserve wines released at their optimal drinking window. We have aged the wine for you, so you don’t have to.
The price of patience
Aged wines can often come with a higher price tag due to the additional time, cellaring and storage costs, not to mention delayed revenue for the winery. At Settlers Rise we invest in the meticulous care required for ageing, resulting in exceptional and sought-after vintages of reserve wines cellared for 10 to 15 years before release.
Find out more about our Terroirs of the Granite Belt aged reserve Chardonnay and Shiraz.