Cellaring Wine and Bottle Aging
Collecting and cellaring fine wine can lift your enjoyment of wine to another level.
With patience some of your wines will develop flavors, structure, balance and flavor depth over the years, characteristics which you hardly find in young wines.
Additionally, many premium wines are not made to be consumed in their youth, but after many years in bottle.
Good examples are the great reds of Bordeaux or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which are very tannic in their early years, but open up amazingly after 5, 10 or more years.
In order to avoid disappointment, you have to consider some factors about the right storage, wine maturation, the selection of wines you want to age as well as the handling of older wines.
Several storage mistakes can ruin your bottles of wine.
The most important aspect when storing wine is to care for stable temperature conditions.
Temperatures should not fluctuate within short time periods. As long as the changes take place over months within an amplitude of 10 degrees or less, you can call it stable.
Furthermore, wines can be destroyed during the aging process by the expansion of the liquid and the break of the cork seal. As a little bit of wine is soaked up by the cork the same amount of air has to go into the bottle to replace the volume. Accordingly, rapid and premature oxidation can take place. If you don´t have the opportunity to keep the surrounding air humidity up, you should store your bottles lying to ensure direct contact of wine with the cork. This is very important to sustain the cork as a firm seal, to avoid that it dries off, shrinks and, thereby, loses its sealing properties and lets air into the bottle.
While wine ages it undergoes several changes:
• Texture increases
• Tannins are reduced
• Complexity increases
• Fruit characters are reduced
• Alcohol is stable
• Acid is reduced
For those who enjoy more fruitful and fresh characters, it would be better to drink the wine at an earlier stage, but you have to accept the tannins and rather robust character of the wine then. If you prefer a velvet and smooth texture, you might have to wait several years or even decades when you are able to enjoy flavors other than fruit, like leather, earth or tar.
It is also a subjective matter of personal taste and preference, which determines the exact duration of bottle storage and wine age.
Generally, reds like Zinfandel or Merlot and whites, like white Burgundy, mature faster, but there are always four things that should be in balance: alcohol, acidity, tannins and perseverance of the fruit.
While the alcohol level remains constant and acts as a preservative, it must have certain strength with about 12% or more. Acidity also preserves the wine and gets softer over time; therefore it should be prominent in the young wine to last through the years. Another preservative are the tannins with their anti-oxidative characters. Without them wine would turn faint pretty fast. Fruit characters have to be intense and deep to last the journey of maturation as well. Some aspects, including texture and soundness also cooperate in wine aging, but clearly those four – minus the tannins for most whites – are very important to determine a wines future.
Usually it is recommended to decant an aged wine carefully, before you finally enjoy it.
Wines aged in a bottle – more reds than whites – will typically have sediment after about ten years or more. This could give you an unpleasant feeling in the mouth. Thus, especially those wines deserve to be decanted. The procedure of decanting itself, and the large surface area in contact with air in the decanter, alters the wine by softening its bite and supporting the development of more complex aromas.