What makes a wine suitable for ageing?
Updated: 2 days ago
The oversimplified equation is:
Pronounced Primary Aromas + Preservatives = Potential for ageing.
“Pronounced”: means intense and “Primary Aromas” refers to the combination of perfumes intrinsic to the grape variety and occurring during fermentation. Wines made from vines that have been abused to produce will only display dilute aromas and flavors that quickly fade away. This represents most of the cheap & cheerful wines on the market.
Conversely, wines made by skillful winemakers from small yields of well-cared vineyards can produce (when nature permits it) intense perfumes that can evolve in barrels and later in bottles. For example, some of the aromatic molecules occurring in a high-quality fresh wine made of Pinot Noir (exhibiting scents of cherry, raspberry strawberry) will break down overtime and re-arrange themselves to produce scents of forest floor, earthy notes, tobacco, leather or mushroom.
Natural “preservatives” in wines include alcohol, sugar, acids, and tannins. Some wines, like Vintage Ports combine all of these to give some of the most age-worthy wines in the world. These wines are made with intensely perfumed ripe grapes from tiny yields, subject to fast and furious extraction of tannins, barely fermented sweet juice, and fortification. The intense flavors, trapped in a bottle, complexify over decades.
In the Barolo region, wines made of small yields of the high quality Nebbiolo grape, hold both high acidity and high tannins that can make the intense primary flavors evolve for thirty years: The primary aromas of sour cherries, roses and violet, evolve toward notes of licorice, cedar and chocolate.
Some other wines have only acidity to take them in the future, this is the case of Riesling, for example: Intensely perfumed, even the driest versions can evolve over time because of the searing acidity they hold.
These age-worthy wines are complex, rare, expensive and can, if improperly stored, age much faster than they should, but that’s an issue I want to address in another post.