Monday, 8 April 2013

Wine for Beginners: Wine Gets Better with Age, Right?

Nope, not necessarily.

It is definitely true to say that wines change with age but that’s not always for the better, so why would you go to the effort of ageing a wine if its going to end up worse than it was when you started?

It’s all about knowing which types of wine will age well and which wines won't.

A wine’s ability to age is to do with bacteria inside the wine (yes, that’s right, I've started on bacteria. Here is a picture of a dog that should keep you entertained if bacteria doesn't).

Wine has a much higher level of acidity than other drinks like cider, orange juice, or beer - and this high level of acidity means it is much less susceptible to spoiling due to bacteria. In drinks with less acidity, bacteria is able to develop gradually, which causes these drinks to go off. This provides the basis for wines ability to age and is what has made it a much safer drink than water throughout history.

There are a few key factors that wine needs to possess in order to actually benefit from sitting in a bottle for a long time. A lot of acidity is essential so that after it has been in bottle for a good few years and has mellowed, there is still enough present that it tastes fresh and makes your mouth water. Fruit is important in order to retain depth of flavour, and tannin in the reds is essential in order to provide structure and backbone.

The fact is, only a very small percentage of wines made throughout the world actually need laying down. A popular reason behind the ageing of wine is for financial gain: a wine can be bought much cheaper before it is ready to drink, and then as it reaches drinking stage it can be sold on at a higher price. To find out more about this, type ‘En Primeur’ into google, providing you have nothing better to do and no friends.
Ensuring a wine is laying down is essential for ageing
as the cork stays wet and keeps a tight seal.
Photo: Stewart Butterfield (CCL)

A very simple way to decide if your bottle of wine should be drunk sooner rather than later is by its price. Generally, if it's under £20 it wants drinking. If you do have a specific wine that you aren’t sure about, then ask your local wine merchant (you will have one, they’re all over the place) - but it won't be a yes or no answer: every wine will have a different drinking window, so you'll need to keep track of each one separately if you're buying wines to lay down.

Besides that: wines that are intended to age wont age successfully unless they are well looked after and stored properly, so unless you have the facilities to ensure your wine can be kept lying down, out of direct light and at a constant temperature somewhere between 10-15oC, don’t bother. Because you’ll probably bugger it up, according to the experts (we don't think they use those exact words).

Don't worry: the fact is, the majority of wine is made for drinking now - you don't need to spend upwards of twenty quid to find a brilliant bottle. But 99% of wines that you buy in the supermarket are made so that you can take them home and drink them straight away, or even in the car on the way home, or even on the way to the checkout. With that in mind, it's best not to think, “Oh, I’ll save that nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that I got from the off-license on the day my first child was born to drink on his/her/it’s 18th birthday” because it will be shite. Even the 2nd birthday is pushing it to be honest. Enjoy it now.
Likewise, if you get given a £5 bottle of plonk for a birthday present by a relative that either doesn’t really know you that well or just straight up doesn’t like your face, drink it as soon as you can because if its left on the kitchen top next to the cooker for 3 years and you decide to crack it open at said relatives funeral, it'll probably taste like it's died as well.

If you do want a good wine to put aside for that long, fork out a bit more cash and head to a wine merchant for advice. But only if you're patient.

This Luis Felipe Edwards
Mountain View 2012
Chilean Chardonnay at
£6.99 from Majestic is made
in a fresh and zesty style and
intended to be drunk young
rather than being aged.

at £25.00 from RED&WHITE
would continue to develop nicely
with a bit more time spent in bottle

Freddy Bulmer.

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