Greeks and Romans were aware of the potential of aged wines.
In Greece, early examples of dried "straw wines" were noted
for their ability to age due to their high sugar contents. These
wines were stored in sealed earthenware amphorae and kept for
many years. In Rome, the most sought after winesâ€”Falernian
and Surrentine ”were prized for their ability to age for decades.
In the Book of Luke, it is noted that "old wine" was valued
over "new wine" (Luke 5:39). The Greek physician Galen wrote
that the "taste" of aged wine was desirable and that this could
be accomplished by heating or smoking the wine, though, in Galen's
opinion, these artificially aged wines were not as healthy to
consume as naturally aged wines.
the Fall of the Roman Empire, appreciation for aged wine was
virtually non-existent. Most of the wines produced in northern
Europe were light bodied, pale in color and with low alcohol.
These wines did not have much aging potential and barely lasted
a few months before they rapidly deteriorated into vinegar.
The older a wine got the cheaper its price became as merchants
eagerly sought to rid themselves of aging wine. By the 16th
century, sweeter and more alcoholic wines (like Malmsey and
Sack) were being made in the Mediterranean and gaining attention
for their aging ability. Similarly, Riesling from Germany with
its combination of acidity and sugar were also demonstrating
their ability to age. In 17th century two innovations occurred
that radically changed the wine industry's view on aging. One
was the development of the cork and bottle which allowed producers
to package and store wine in a virtually air-tight environment.
The second was the growing popularity of fortifying wines such
as Port, Madeira and Sherries. The added alcohol was found to
act as a preservative, allowing wines to survive long sea voyages
to England, The Americas and the East Indies. The English, in
particular, were growing in their appreciation of aged wines
like Port and Claret from Bordeaux. Demand for matured wines
had a pronounced effect on the wine trade. For producers, the
cost and space of storing barrels or bottles of wine was prohibitive
so a merchant class evolved with warehouses and the finances
to facilitate aging wines for a longer period of time. In regions
like Bordeaux, Oporto and Burgundy, this situation dramatically
increased the balance of power towards the merchant classes.
wine can age?
Only a few
wines have the ability to significantly improve with age. Master
of Wine Jancis Robinson notes that only around the top 10% of
all red wine and top 5% of all white wines can improve significantly
enough with age to make drinking more enjoyable at 5 years of
age than at 1 year of age. Additionally, Robinson estimates,
only the top 1% of all wine has the ability to improve significantly
after more than a decade. It is her belief that more wine is
consumed too old, rather than too young, and that the great
majority of wines start to lose appeal and fruitiness after
6 months in the bottle.
wines with a low pH (such as Pinot noir and Sangiovese) have
a greater capability of aging. With red wines, a high level
of flavor compounds, such as phenolics (most notably tannins),
will increase the likelihood that a wine will be able to age.
Wines with high levels of phenols include Cabernet Sauvignon,
Nebbiolo and Syrah.
The white wines with the longest aging potential tend to be
those with a high amount of extract and acidity. The acidity
in white wines plays a similar role that tannins have with red
wines in acting as a preservative. The process of making white
wines, which includes little to no skin contact, means that
white wines have a significantly lower amount of phenolic compounds,
though barrel fermentation and oak aging can impart some phenols.
Similarly, the minimal skin contact with rosÃ© wine limits their
at the winery most wood-aged Ports, Sherries, Vins doux naturels,
Vins de liqueur, basic level Ice wines and sparkling wines
are bottled when the producer feels that they are ready to be
consumed. These wines are ready to drink upon release and will
not benefit much from aging. Vintage Ports and other bottled-aged
Ports & Sherries will benefit from some additional aging,
as can vintage Champagne.
In 2009, a 184-year-old bottle of Perrier-JouÃ«t was opened
and tasted, still drinkable, with notes of "truffles and caramel",
according to the experts.
of sugars, acids and phenolics to water is a key determination
of how well a wine can age. The less water in the grapes prior
to harvest, the more likely the resulting wine will have some
aging potential. Grape variety, climate, vintage and viticultural
practice come into play here. Grape varieties with thicker skins,
from a dry growing season where little irrigation was used and
yields were kept low will have less water and a higher ratio
of sugar, acids and phenolics. The process of making Eisweins,
where water is removed from the grape during pressing as frozen
ice crystals, has a similar effect of decreasing the amount
of water and increasing aging potential.
the duration of maceration or skin contact will influence how
much phenolic compounds are leached from skins into the wine.
Pigmented tannins, anthocyanins, colloids, tannin-polysaccharides
and tannin-proteins not only influence a wine's resulting color
but also act as preservatives. During fermentation adjustment
to a wine's acid levels can be made with wines with lower pH
having more aging potential. Exposure to oak either during fermentation
or after during barrel aging will introduce more phenolic compounds
to the wines. Prior to bottling, excessive fining or filtering
of the wine could strip the wine of some phenolic solids and
may lessen a wine's ability to age.
condition of the bottled wine will influence a wine's aging.
Vibrations and heat fluctuations can hasten a wine's deterioration
and cause adverse effect on the wines. In general, a wine has
a greater potential to develop complexity and more aromatic
bouquet if it is allowed to age slowly in a relatively cool
environment. The lower the temperature, the more slowly a wine
On average, the rate of chemical reactions in wine double with
each 18 °F (8 °C) increase in temperature. Wine expert Karen
MacNeil, recommends keeping wine intended for aging in a cool
area with a constant temperature around 55°F (13°C). Wine can
be stored at temperatures as high as 69°F (20°C) without long
term negative effect. Professor Cornelius Ough of the University
of California, Davis believes that wine could be exposed to
temperatures as high as 120 °F (49 °C) for a few hours and not
be damaged. However, most experts believe that extreme temperature
fluctuations (such as repeated transferring a wine from a warm
room to a cool refrigerator) would be detrimental to the wine.
The ultra-violet rays of direct sunlight should also be avoided
because of the free radicals that can develop in the wine and
result in oxidation.
in large format bottles, such as magnums and 3 liter Jeroboams,
seem to age more slowly than wines packaged in regular 750 ml
bottles or half bottles. This may be because of the greater
proportion of oxygen exposed to the wine during the bottle process.
The advent of alternative wine closures to cork, such as screw
caps and synthetic corks have opened up recent discussions on
the aging potential of wines sealed with these alternative closures.
Currently there is no conclusive results and the topic is the
subject of ongoing research.
One of the
short-term aging needs of wine is a period where the wine is
considered "sick" due to the trauma and volatility of the bottling
experience. During bottling some oxygen is exposed to the wine,
causing a domino effect of chemical reaction with various components
of the wine. The time it takes for the wine to settle down and
have the oxygen fully dissolve and integrate with the wine is
considered its period of "bottle shock". During this time the
wine could taste drastically different than it did prior to
bottling or how it will taste after the wine has settled. While
many modern bottling lines try to treat the wine as gently as
possible and utilize inert gases to minimize the amount of oxygen
exposure, all wine goes through some period of bottle shock.
The length of this period will vary with each individual wine.
course of aging a wine may slip into a "dumb phase" where its
aromas and flavors are very muted. In Bordeaux this phase is
called the age ingrat or "difficult age" and is likened
to a teenager going through adolescence. The cause or length
of time that this "dumb phase" will last is not yet fully understood
and seems to vary from bottle to bottle.
As red wine
ages, the harsh tannins of its youth gradually give way to a
softer mouthfeel. An inky dark color will eventually fade to
a light brick red. These changes occur due to the complex chemical
reactions of the phenolic compounds of the wine. In processes
that begin during fermentation and continue after bottling,
these compounds bind together and aggregate. Eventually these
particles reach a certain size where they are too large to stay
suspended in the solution and precipitate out. The presence
of visible sediment in a bottle will usually indicate a mature
wine. The resulting wine, with this loss of tannins and pigment,
will have a paler color and taste softer, less astringent. The
sediment, while harmless, can have an unpleasant taste and is
often separated from the wine by decanting.
aging process, the perception of a wine's acidity may change
even though the total measurable amount of acidity is more or
less constant throughout a wine's life. This is due to the esterification
of the acids, combining with alcohols in complex array to form
esters. In addition to making a wine taste less acidic, these
esters introduce a range of possible aromas. Eventually the
wine may age to a point where other components of the wine (such
as a tannins and fruit) are less noticeable themselves, which
will then bring back a heightened perception of wine acidity.
Other chemical processes that occur during aging include the
hydrolysis of flavor precursors which detach themselves from
glucose molecules and introduce new flavor notes in the older
wine and Aldehydes become oxidized. The interaction of certain
phenolics develop what is known as tertiary aromas which are
different from the primary aromas that are derived from the
grape and during fermentation.
As a wine
starts to mature, its bouquet will become more developed and
multi-layered. While a taster may be able to pick out a few
fruit notes in a young wine, a more complex wine will have several
distinct fruit, floral, earthy, mineral and oak derived notes.
The lingering finish of a wine will lengthen. Eventually the
wine will reach a point of maturity, when it is said to be at
its "peak". This is the point when the wine has the maximum
amount of complexity, most pleasing mouthfeel and softening
of tannins and has not yet started to decay. When this point
will occur is not yet predictable and can vary from bottle to
bottle. If a wine is aged for too long, it will start to descend
into decrepitude where the fruit tastes hollow and weak while
the wine's acidity becomes dominant.
esterification that takes place in wines and other alcoholic
beverages during the aging process is an example of acid-catalysed
esterification. Over time, the acidity of the acetic acid and
tannins in an aging wine will catalytically protonate other
organic acids (including acetic acid itself), encouraging ethanol
to react as a nucleophile. As a result, ethyl acetate -- the
ester of ethanol and acetic acidâ€”is the most abundant ester
in wines. Other combinations of organic alcohols (such as phenol-containing
compounds) and organic acids lead to a variety of different
esters in wines, contributing to their different flavours, smells
and tastes. Of course, when compared to sulfuric acid conditions,
the acid conditions in a wine are mild, so yield is low (often
in tenths or hundredths of a percentage point by volume) and
take years for ester to accumulate.
a long history of man using artificial means to try to accelerate
the natural aging process. In Ancient Rome a smoke chamber known
as a fumarium was used to enhance the flavor of wine through
artificial aging. Amphorae were placed in the chamber, which
was built on top of a heated hearth, in order to impart a smoky
flavor in the wine that also seemed to sharpen the acidity.
The wine would sometimes come out of the fumarium with a paler
color just like aged wine. Modern winemaking
techniques like micro-oxygenation can have the side effect of
artificially aging the wine. In the production of Madeira and
rancio wines, the wines are deliberately exposed to excessive
temperatures to accelerate the maturation of the wine. Other
techniques used to artificially age wine (with inconclusive
results on their effectiveness) include shaking the wine, exposing
it to radiation, magnetism or ultra-sonic waves.
More recently, experiments with artificial aging through high-voltage
electricity have produced results above the remaining techniques,
as assessed by a panel of wine tasters.
Science of Wine Aroma
the Acids in Wine
(Tannins) in Wine
The Basic Wine Pairing Rules
Science of Food and Wine
a Wine Sommelier