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When to Drink Versus Aged Wine Guide

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You may have heard the saying that “wine gets better with age.” This is true, sometimes! But it also depends on your personal preferences and what you like in a wine. Here’s a guide to help you determine what to hold versus what to drink when it comes to aged wine.

What Makes a Wine Age-Worthy?

Wine needs sweetness, alcohol, acidity, or tannins to age. They all act as preservatives. Alcohol and sugar are both particularly effective preservatives. They do not wane over the years; they stay consistent at the levels they were at when the wines were bottled. However, acidity and tannins both mellow out, which can provide a nice balanced structure to the wine. As such, higher acid wines are great for aging because they’ll still retain some nice freshness after many years of aging. Similarly, high tannin wines will retain their structure. If you have a wine with high levels of at least two of these four components, you’ll have a beautifully structured aged wine.

Wines from moderate to warm climates tend to be strong candidates for aging. In warmer climates, the grapes develop more sugars which convert to higher levels of alcohol during fermentation. As such, warm climate wines like Napa Cabs and Bordeaux blends are perfect aging candidates. When young, these wines can have a jammy black fruit quality with delicate notes of baking spices. After many years of aging, the fruity notes fade away or develop more of a baked or dried quality, while the non-fruit notes are more pronounced. The result is a fantastic and complex wine.

There are some grey areas with aging wine. For example, Pinot Noir is a cool to moderate climate grape variety. In most cases, they should be enjoyed within 5 years. However, high end Burgundian Pinot Noir that has aged for 10 to 20 years is a spectacular experience. The earthy and meaty aromas are much more pronounced. They become complex and truly extraordinary. 

Dessert wines are also particularly age worthy. The high levels of sugar allow them to age for many years. While the fruity notes of apricot and citrus zests may wane, the notes of honey and ginger come to the forefront and are quite a delight.

How to Decide If You Should Age Your Wine

If you love fruit forward wines, you may find yourself disappointed with aged wines. Wines with age tend to lose their fruity characteristics, while the non-fruit aromatic characteristics are brought to the forefront.

If you love wines with a lot of non-fruit characteristics, you’ll likely be blown away by some aged wine. They develop a lot of complexity and depth.

Here are some considerations for white and red wines.

Characteristics of White Aged Wine

For the most part, white wines tend to be best when enjoyed young. Nowadays, most people who drink white wines are looking for a crisp, fresh, light white wine with fruity and floral notes. These types of white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc and unoaked Chardonnay, are best enjoyed young. The acidity wanes over time so they lose the tartness on the palate if they are aged.

However, white wines with a little bit of residual sugar and / or oak aging are great candidates for cellaring. In this case, the beautiful non-fruit characteristics of butterscotch, smoke, or roasted nuts are more pronounced. If you like a complex white wine with these types of notes expressed, some additional bottle aging in your cellar could be a great idea.

Characteristics of Red Wines with Age

When enjoying red wines, if you are someone who loves the aromas of herbs, baking spices, leather, tobacco, cured meats, and earthy notes, you’ll want to consider aging your red wines. As mentioned earlier, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux wines are great candidates for aging. Any high-quality warmer climate red wine is a great candidate for aging. However, if you like ripe and jammy fruity aromatic characteristics in your red wines, you will want to enjoy them sooner rather than later.

Wrap Up on Aged Wine

Ultimately, deciding what wine to drink versus hold comes down to your personal preferences as well as the quality and structure of the wine. If you love complex wines with aromatic characteristics beyond fruity notes, consider aging your wine! When making a decision on which wines to age, assess the quality of the wine, the climate in which it was grown, and the structural components of the wine to ensure that the wine will hold up. It takes a great deal of patience, but the reward at the end of the wait is so worth it.