4 Traits of Wines That Age Well
Other Aging Issues
Besides the wine itself being the right wine to age, the bottle, stopper and storage method greatly affect how long a wine will age. See Corks article.
Determining if a wine will last is not an exact science. Most wine experts use deductive reasoning based on their past experiences to determine what wines age well. There are, however, four characteristics that most wine people agree on when tasting a wine to determine if it will last. Keep in mind that a wine that ages well for 12 years will most likely not taste as delicious in the first few years of its life. The four traits we wine geeks look for in an age-worthy wine are high acidity, tannin structure, low alcohol level and residual sugar.
Wines with higher acidity tend to last longer. As a wine ages it slowly loses its acids and flattens out. A wine that starts its existence with lower acidity will probably not make it in the long haul. Basically, a wine with higher acid has a longer runway as it ages.
Tannin acts as a structural component and red wines with higher tannins tend to age better than lower tannin red wines. Tannins come from contact to the pips and skins of the grapes during wine making and also from oak aging. A wine with well balanced tannins (where there is a balance between ‘grape tannin’ and ‘wood tannin’) will slowly “smooth out” over time as the tannins break down. Despite the fact that tannins can help make a wine age well, if the wine is not well balanced to begin with, it will never improve over time. There are many long-lived white wines and white wines do not need tannin to age well.
Alcohol is volatile in non-fortified wines and causes wine to turn to vinegar more quickly. Generally speaking, the lower the alcohol level in a non-fortified wine the longer it will last. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. However this is the case for many dry red and white wines. When seeking out a wine for aging, I check the alcohol level and hope for an ABV below 13.5%. Despite the fact that high alcohol ruins normal still wines, fortified wines are perhaps the longest lived of all wines with 17-20% ABV.
This component of a wine is often overlooked because of the popularity of aging dry wines. As it turns out, the longest lived wines tend to be sweet wines including port, sherry, Sauternes and riesling.