December 1, 2015
To cellar, or not to cellar? That is the ultimate question when it comes to aging wine.
Some assume the longer you keep a wine, the better it will taste, but multiple factors can influence the quality of a wine over time. Paul Hoover of Still Waters Vineyards has some answers to your wine-aging questions!
Ready to Drink
With 90% of all wine purchased being consumed within 12-18 months of production, there is a demand among winemakers to produce wines that are ready to drink now. These wines are delicate, soft, and smooth. In comparison, wines meant for aging may seem harsh and acidic, but those are the characteristics that will allow the wine to age beautifully into the future. With proper aging, some wines that are high in acid and tannins can develop into amazing wines. Once the tannins are allowed to soften, the fruit develops and the acidity comes into balance.
Ask the Winemaker
The structure of the wine – meaning acid, alcohol, and tannins will play a determining role in how long a wine will last. Ask the winemaker or tasting room attendant about these key components to learn if the wine will age well.
- Acidity: As wine ages, the acidity will fade. Typically a wine with a higher acid level and lower pH will have better aging potential.
- Alcohol: The best wines for aging will be 13.5-14% ABV.
- Tannins: Tannins are a structural component of a wine that allows the wine to change over time. Tannins come from the contact the juice has on the skins during fermentation and also from oak barrel aging.
Know the Variety
Know the variety. Certain varieties have intrinsic characteristics that allow them to age better than others. Although there are exceptions to every rule, white wine is traditionally meant to be consumed now. Varieties with smaller berries such as Cabernet Sauvignon have a very high skin-to-juice ratio. This creates higher tannins from the skins and seeds leading to wines that can age over 10 years.
One tool I use to test the wine is to leave about 1/4 of the bottle of wine overnight for sampling the next day… if you can! If the wine still tastes good the next day after the oxygen exposure there is a good chance the wine has many years to go.
Taste for Time
If an older wine still has good acidity on the finish, it still has more time to age. When purchasing a wine you think may age well, it is always best to buy at least six bottles. Taste one bottle each year to be able to learn how the wine evolves over time to develop a sense of how the wine will age.
Age for Memories
My favorite reason to save and age wines is to remember the year the wine was made. Maybe a marriage took place or a new grandchild was born. One tradition we have at Still Waters is to save a bottle of wine from the year each grandchild was born to drink on their 21st birthday or wedding.