The Many Nuances Of Well-aged Fine Wines
Wednesday - May 06, 2009
What happens to wines as they age? It’s something that deeply interests me and many others. I have had the privilege to taste many “aged” and “old” wines. Do they become decrepit, senile or even worse, vinegar? No, no and no. They go through many changes, but none of these.
One of the things you may notice about “older” wines is their change in color. White wines turn a more golden yellow, even amber hue. Red wines lose their color, and its vibrancy starts to fray and turn more orange and brown. These are natural processes of the slow oxidative process of aging.
This is all predicated on proper storage, of course.
The small amount of oxygen in the bottle reacts with the compounds in the pigment of the wine and they start to oxidize, thus changing the color of the wine.
At the same time, especially in red wines, there are compounds that make up the pigment and the tannin inside the wine that start to bond. They become bigger and bigger, and eventually fall out of solution or, in other words, turn from liquid to solid. This forms the sediment you often see caked on to the side and bottom of a bottle that is pulled from the cellar. This is completely natural, and I am skeptical of old bottles of wine that have no sediment within. It signifies to me that either the wine was highly filtered, thus stripping away much of its flavor and soul. It also could signal that the wine is counterfeit, as the bottle could have been refilled with a lesser wine.
That is what happens physically to wine that you can observe by mere sight. But how does time affect the wine on your palate? Over time, the tannin inside a red wine will soften. When a wine is young, it often has gripping, rich tannins that can envelope your gums. With more mature bottles, that thickness of tannin can turn into a butteriness or silkiness that connoisseurs crave. Wines that are sweet become less sweet over time. This is relative, as wines in their youth can be unbelievably sweet and remain that way for decades. Other components in the wine, such as acidity and alcohol, remain static.
Now that we have all the technical stuff out of the way, let’s talk about how old wines taste. What is amazing about mature wines is that they offer flavors and aromas that are no longer associated with just fruit. They start to take on another life and personality.
I often have trouble describing older wines because they smell and taste like things I can only associate with old wines. Terms such as truffles, mushrooms, mocha, cakes, earthiness and toffee only scratch at the surface of the great mature wine experiences. There are so many things that aged wines offer that are missing in their youth. Much like a person becomes wiser with the years, the great wines become more complex with depths of flavor and character.
Mature wine is a very special and unique experience. Depending on your palate, you may love it or you may only appreciate it.
I love mature wines and search them out, and with the help of my cellar, proper diet and exercise, I will be able to enjoy them for years to come.
Mother’s Day Recommendations: NV Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Champagne ($45). This Champagne is one that Mom will love. It is superbly elegant, classy and vibrant - just like Mom!
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