It’s a fairly common assumption that the older a wine is, the better it must be; and there is a certain romanticism to mature, cellar-aged wines. Whilst the quality of a well-aged wine is undeniable, what you might not know is that almost 98% of all the wine the world produces is designed to be drunk immediately.
The fast-paced and dynamic nature of the world in which we presently live has in many ways, compromised our ability to be patient. As a result, the vast majority of wines you might find on the shelf at Dan Murphy’s are designed to be at their best as soon as they enter the bottle. In fact, many of these wines will actually begin to ‘die’ after a shelf life of 3-5 years.
This is by no means a bad thing, and is in most cases an intentional move on the winemaker’s part. But how can you tell if a wine is best drunk immediately, or left to age? Here’s a few pointers.
When to age a wine:
Generally, a good indication lies in a wine’s price-point. Bottles that sell for under $30 tend to taste their best while still young. The reason being for this is that almost all wines that fall into this price bracket are consumed within the first 24 hours following their purchase. Winemakers are of course very conscious of this fact, and thus create wines that are designed to taste their best while still in their youth.
Another handy indication lies in a wine’s colour and varietal. As a general rule of thumb, lighter whites and rosés are best drunk within the same season in which they were first purchased. Having said that, there are many white varietals which do age beautifully. Notably, Chardonnay, Riesling, Fiano, and high-end, vintage Champagne. For varietals such as these, price-point provides valuable insight into their capacity to age well.
What about red wine?
When it comes to red wine, varietal is also a good guiding principle. Grapes with consistently higher tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot not only age well, they often require at least a little age before they fully develop.
On the other hand, there may be something to be said for the health benefits of a young red. Tannins decrease and soften as a wine ages, and so too do the antioxidants that they contain. One such antioxidant is resveratrol, a powerful polyphenol that exists to fight off bacteria, fungi, and other microbial attackers in both human and plant cells. Present in much higher levels in younger reds, resveratrol has been linked to the known cardiovascular benefits of red wine.
By and large; how, why, and when to age a wine is almost entirely a matter of personal opinion. A trick we like to use at the winery is to buy two bottles of the same wine, one for now, and one for cellaring.