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Ageing bottles is a time-honoured practice among wine enthusiasts. Make a careful study of your favourite wine bottles and you'll see vintage dates included in labelling or the seal.
In addition to vintage, Italian and French vineyards go as far as to employ a classification system that can identify wines down the exact location in the vineyard.
As such, there is a misconception among new wine drinkers that every type of wine improves with age. After all, why do wineries print vintage dates on stock if you can't age them?
The following questions and answers will provide some clarity to newcomers to the world of aging wine.
What happens when wine ages?
Wine, unlike other alcoholic beverages, changes flavour over time. The complex biochemical composition of wine is what gives it this unique quality.
Aged red wines lose their deep red tinge; old white wines become more vibrant and colourful.
Generally, aged wines taste softer than young vintages, ideally consumed soon after opening or within three days, provided proper storage.
Which wines age well and which ones don't?
Becoming familiar with wine's flavour profile is critical to understanding the effect of age. It's preferable to drink the majority of wines without ageing or cellaring.
Red wines that age well contain a high amount of tannins, the compounds in wine that have an astringent, slightly bitter, dry taste.
As white wines don't contain as many tannins, they aren't the best choice for ageing, but in the world of vino, there are invariably exceptions.
White wines with high acidity can age better than red wines, depending on the vineyard's location.
Why does wine taste better with age?
Tannins lose their astringent character over the years. If you don't like the flavour profile of red wines, you're not alone. Many beginners experience the same.
Ageing wine imparts a secondary aroma bouquet. For instance, a fresh, young Riesling has a bright, nearly floral, scent.
The same wine aged would gain complexity and likely smell as rich as a bushel of apricots, apples, and lemons.
What has happened when wine ages too long?
A wine passed its prime has decomposed to the point where it has lost its tannins and aromas. Rather than increasing in complexity, a stale wine will look and taste awkward and out of balance.
How can you tell if a wine has aged beyond its prime?
Red wine tends to turn brown and loses its famed, deep rouge hue. The scent of stale red wine is unmistakable and smells similar to burnt rubber.
White wines tend to turn more golden and opaque. Taste-wise, a stale white wine loses its fruity characteristics and acidity.
Taste is the final arbiter of aged wine. Once you find a wine you adore, it's much easier to identify poorly made and aged vino.
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