Why Do Some Wines Age Better Than Others?

Last time we addressed some general guidelines on how long wines can age, noting that rosé should be consumed immediately after bottling while still bright, fruity and fresh, most white wines are typically best within a couple of years of bottling, and red wines can be aged for several years.

So, the common thought is that red wines age best. And, that is correct.  But why is that? Why can red wine be aged longer than whites?  After all, they are both made from the juice of grapes! The answer has a lot to do with tannins, but acidity also plays a role too.

Tannins are chemical compounds that act as natural preservatives in wine. They come from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Tannins also come from the wood barrels where the wines are aged. 

But, as previously noted, the key difference between red wines and white wines is that red wines are fermented along with the grape skins, seeds and some or all of the stems while the juice for white wines is separated from the skins, seeds and stems before fermentation. Thus, red wines have much higher tannin levels than white wines even before they go into barrels for aging. It's the chemical compounds in these tannins that have the power to preserve a wine.

But the levels of tannins in red wines vary by the variety of grapes used. High tannin red wine grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Bordeaux blends, Merlot and Petite Sirah, just to name a few.  Medium tannin wines include Malbec, Syrah and Zinfandel, while low tannin wines include Gamay, Barbera, Pinot Noir and Valpolicella blends.  So it's the high tannin wines that typically age best.

Acidity also plays a role in how well a wine may age. The natural acid levels in a wine acts to preserve the wine. That's why only certain white wines can withstand aging. Wines such as French Chablis, German Riesling and Loire Valley Chenin Blanc all have naturally high acid levels and are capable of extended aging.

So forget the myth that all wines improve with age. It's the rare few that actually do age well. And, there is actually a peak after which any wine will go into decline. So choose wisely if you are looking to age wines, ensure they are properly stored and, if you have the luxury of owning multiple bottles of a particular wine that you are aging, open one periodically so as to catch it in its peak.

Next time I'll share a bit more about acidity in wines and how you perceive it.  Cheers!



Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Layer Cake Cabernet Sauvignon ($13)

Don't let the chocolate cake on the label fool you. This is a serious wine, from a serious wine maker.  Jason Woodbridge is the owner of Hundred Acre. His 2012 Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon received Wine Spectator's 94 point rating and is a $450 bottle of wine!  He is also the owner of Layer Cake stating that he "Likes the idea of a young man putting 20 bucks on the counter and getting some change back on a good wine."  This California Cabernet Sauvignon is a great value and well worth trying. Enjoy!