Wines, like most things in life, evolve over time.
In our busy modern world, it’s hard to imagine taking the time to store wine bottles for years, but for true wine aficionados, this is a way of life.
But with so many different types of wine and storage methods, what is the taste of old wine?
Different types of wine age differently, but in general, an old wine has a more complex flavor profile with smoother tannins and less acidity. The taste is often described as having earthy notes with hints of dried fruits, leather, and tobacco.
Why Age Wine?
Wines, like all living organisms, undergo chemical reactions. In wine, tannins, acid, and alcohol react with oxygen, each other, and other compounds in the wine to change the flavor, aroma, and texture.
Many wines are bottled with the intention of age, so they are made with more tannins, acidity, and sugar. Examples of such wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
Aged wines are perceived to be more valuable. For enthusiasts, they represent a deeper connection with wine and the wine-making process. Vintage bottles are sold at auctions at ridiculous prices, with some being as old as 200 years. But are they any good?
The flavor of Old Wine
Wine experts describe old wine as having a more complex flavor profile. The tannins, which cause bitterness, are mellowed out and become smoother. The brighter acidity also decreases, making the wine less tart.
Old wine has a unique taste that is different from young wine. This is because with age, the oxygen has penetrated into the cork, causing the cork itself to become more porous, and in turn allowing more air to seep into the bottle. This contact with oxygen helps to break down the tannins and other compounds that can give wine a harshness in youth.
Aged red wines taste like they are soaked in vanilla, earthiness, and wet leaves. They have a softer, muted fruitiness, with some being described as tasteless or characterless. An old Pinot Noir, for example, has less fruitiness, acidity than a young one and takes on earthy notes. It often has hints of dried fruits, mushroom, leather, and tobacco, accompanied by a silky texture. But don’t expect an old wine to taste like fresh mushrooms. Jancis Robinson, a world-famous Master of Wine, describes old red wine as pleasant, but not necessarily better than young wine.
As for old white wines, they develop a deeper color and lose some of the tropical fruit character that young white wine is known for. Instead, older white wines are characterized by nutty and butterscotch notes, and a darker, almost amber color. You may also notice honey or caramelized flavors in aged white wines.
Older sparkling wines, which are usually made with grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier, also develop different flavors due to their extended stay in the bottle. Instead of the bright green or yellow fruit notes of young sparkling wine, an old sparkling wine takes on nutty and creamy characteristics, often with hints of toast, honey, and almond.
What Wines Age Well?
Because wine aging is such a complex process, the reality is that not all wines age well. Only about 1% of all bottles of wine produced worldwide are intended to be aged, and even then, some are simply not worth cellaring.
The wines that age the best are the wines that have the following characteristics:
- High acidity: Like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Chablis.
- High tannin levels: Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, and Barolo.
- Low alcohol content: Like French Burgundy.
How to store and Serve Old Wine
Storing old wine is a unique process that requires a specific environment to slow down the oxidation process while preserving the wine’s natural flavor. Ideally, wine should be stored in a dark, cool and moist place, which means a wine cellar is the best spot.
However, not everyone has a wine cellar at home, so storing wine off-premises or in a wine fridge could be the next best thing. The temp in the fridge should be set to about 55°F, which is the optimal temperature for aging wine.
Aging wine at home requires a lot of patience and work. You need to make sure that the cork has not dried up and lost its elasticity, as this would allow for air to seep in and spoil the wine. You should also ensure the optimal temperature and humidity levels are maintained at all times.
It would also be best if you decant the wine properly before drinking it. Decanting an old wine involves pouring it from the bottle into a container, taking care not to disturb the sediment that may have formed. Let the wine breathe in the decanter for about two hours before serving it.
In conclusion, the taste of old wine varies based on the type of wine, its storage conditions, and the length of aging. Old wine has a more complex flavor profile and is different from young wine. The taste is often described as having earthy notes with hints of dried fruits, leather, and tobacco, with smoother tannins and less acidity.
If you are not a wine enthusiast, you can still appreciate a good bottle of aged wine. But ensure the cork has not dried up, and the storage conditions are ideal. With the right cellar and aging storage techniques, aging wine is a truly rewarding experience that allows you to enjoy an entirely new level of taste and complexity.
Jenny has always been passionate about cooking, and she uses her platform to share her joy of food with others. Her recipes are easy to follow, and she loves giving tips and tricks to help others create their own unique culinary creations.