“Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.”
― Joan Collins
Whether you’re described as an “old geezer” or “maturing like fine wine”, ageism exists in many forms. In our senior years, we are sensitive to negative remarks directed at us because we’ve either forgotten something, or we don’t feel understood by the youth of today. It’s nothing new. It’s been happening for generations.
But what about wine? Does wine get old and eventually die, or can it improve with age and blossom into a mature incarnation of itself?
The answer? Well, it depends. On many things.
A common question we are asked at the store is how long a bottle of wine will age. While price doesn’t have too much to do with it, and there’s truly not a definitive answer we can give, based on our knowledge working with wines for many years there are some ways to tell if a wine will stand the test of time. Cellar worthy wines are not necessarily the most expensive ones you’ll buy, but don’t count on that $12.99 bottle lasting for 20 years!
In general, everyday red wines have about a five-year life span. Everyday white and rosé wines about a two-to-three year life span.
Arguably, 97% of all wines purchased in any liquor store in North America today are going to be consumed either tonight, or within the next week. As an instant gratification society, we don’t generally purchase consumables that we have to wait to enjoy. Wines produced from the most recent harvests, especially whites and rosés are released from the winery to be drunk young, fresh and vibrant. Keeping them for any longer than two-to-three years after vintage, and they will have lost their acidity, fresh fruit tastes and in some cases, have changed colour due to oxidization. Red wines, having already been aged in oak casks for several months to several years and then released, are already seeing “some age”, but cellared properly, could potentially last a lot longer.
In the case of all wines, several key elements will determine if it will be age worthy – colour, tannins, acidity, and alcohol level.
Wine is a living thing. When it comes to colour, it’s not how opaque a wine is, but how vibrant the colour maintains. Older red wines develop a dull, brickish-coloured red. Whites turn a brownish orange. If the wine has a higher level of tannins, they act as anti-oxidants and, therefore, preserve the freshness. Many wines, that in youth, taste somewhat astringent when first released, after 10, 15 years taste better. Italian Barolos and Bordeaux wines are two classic examples.
Acidity also contributes to a wine’s longevity by behaving as a buffer against chemical changes caused by oxidation over time. In white wine, higher levels of sweetness act as preservatives increasing their age ability. That is why dessert wines like French Sauternes and gorgeous Hungarian Tokaji can age 50 years or more.
Alcohol levels play a role too. For example, fortified wines are wines with added spirits (including Port) that have about 20% Alcohol by Volume (ABV). The fortification process produces some of the most age-worthy red wines of them all, which makes buying Vintage Port a wonderful gift for the birth of a child, or a wedding, as it will last and age until the 18th birthday or 25th wedding anniversary!
All of this is wasted, however, if the wines are not stored properly, like next to your stove! If you live in a place where your home exceeds 27 °C, using a wine fridge or basement storage is highly recommended. Fluctuating temperatures accelerate aging at a rate of four times faster than the consistent climate of a cellar.
If you’re a really serious collector and want to store wines long term, it’s recommended that you create a climate controlled space with a constant 12 °C and 75% humidity. Also, if the wines have natural corks, make sure you store them on their sides to keep the cork from drying out and shrivelling.
So, if we look after our bodies and minds, and nurture ourselves well, we too can mature into something magnificent in old age! So, age like good wine, improving and developing better characteristics as time goes on. If you ‘age like cheap wine’ you won’t be that great, only lasting for a short while and ending up sour and unpleasant.
Join us December 4, 2019 from 5:30pm-8:30pm for our Holiday Season Open House. Register online at www.aligrawineandspirits.com/events.
Alison Phillips is co owner of Aligra Wine & Spirits at West Edmonton Mall, located at Entrance 58 Lower level below Simons and Scotiabank Theatre. Mention you read this article and receive 10% off your purchase.