Wine 101 November 07, 2017

The Art of Aging Wine

By Ari Lockspeiser

Libraries are typically associated with the place one goes to get information. However, the word also represents the place one stores their wine – in the appropriate environment – to allow the wine to age and reach peak drinking condition.

Aging wine is an art: From determining which wines to age, how long to age them, and the proper aging environment. We have the privilege of allowing our wines to reach their prime drinking condition and in turn, we receive the pleasure of a perfectly aged wine. Wines have become a very stable investment, and proper aging only increases the value of that investment. I would like to explore, if only briefly, three factors of aging wine: How to age wine, which wines will age, and what will happen to a wine as it ages. 

How to Age Wine

The most important factor in aging wine, even more so than the actual wine, is the place of storage. A wine can potentially age for decades, unless the place of aging is improper.

One way to have proper storage is to invest in a wine fridge. These fridges have rows that will allow the bottles to fit properly. There is one exception which is a Burgundy shaped bottle. They are thin at the top, and fat at the bottom. Research any fridge to ensure that the Burgundy bottles will fit on the shelves. The fridge should be kept at a constant temperature of between 54 to 56 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the wine does not get too cold, which stunts the aging process, or too hot, which could cook the wine.

Another option, while not cost-effective for most people, is to build a wine cellar or cave. I have been in wonderfully built ones that house wine in an aesthetically beautiful and climatically proper place. These cellars are expensive because of the cost of proper temperature control and wine racks; but if done properly, it can provide fun organizing and reorganizing the cellar, but also permanent proper storage.

The third option, and the best one, is a professional storage facility. Your wine still be stored at the appropriate temperature in the facility; however, your wine will not be as easily accessible as having it in your home. The last factor of proper storage is keeping the wine away from anything that can harm the aging process including: light, heat and vibration.

Which Wines to Age?

The first rule of thumb is that most white wines do not age well. There are white wines from the 1990s still floating around the kosher market that are wonderful to consume now. But most white wines that are made in a lighter, non-malolactic style have a maximum of three years of storage.

To find a red wine that can age well, look for those aged in oak barrels. Oak barrels allow for wine to gain roundness, body, and complexity; all factors needed to age a wine for multiple years. Look for grape varieties that are designed for aging. Gamay is a young drinking grape and does not age well. Choose grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir (if it’s from Burgundy), and syrah. All these varietals will age nicely and will develop meatier, earthier flavors as they mature.

What Happens to a Wine When It Ages?

The answer to this question is why we invest so much time and money into preparing our cellar correctly, picking the right wines, and patiently waiting until each wine reaches its peak. A properly aged wine is the ultimate in luxury, class, and pleasure. The harshness of some young wines will disappear, the oak will round out to caress and coax the palate, and the flavors will develop notes reserved only for the patient few that can wait to enjoy aged wines.

A young wine can exhibit a sense of “closedness”, as if the wine isn’t ready to be woke from its slumber and allows the drinker to experience only part of its beauty. The fresh fruit flavors mesh and develop into a clever concoction of earthiness, dried fruit, and lusciousness. The balance of the wine allows the drinker to experience its truest form: The tannins, the acid, the flavors stewing together to form a complex, developed and united profile.

As beginners, oenophiles, and certified sommeliers, we all need to experience the wonders of properly aged wine from the libraries which are still telling their wonderful story.