How Wines Age

Many wines need to be aged to properly develop their full flavors. What is aging all about? How does the wine change? What is the ideal time to age a wine?

First, make sure you understand a bit about the components of a wine. Wine has sulfites in it. Sulfites allow a wine to age without turning into vinegar - they are in essence preservatives. Some people are allergic to sulfites. Wines also have tannins in them. Tannins are skin bits from a red grape's skin, and are also found in tea and other foods. Tannins provide the wine's body and also give the many antioxidant health benefits. Third, wines have acid in them.

In general, for a wine to age well, it needs to have ample sulfites and tannins in it plus enough acid. A wine without these things will turn into vinegar as time passes, it will not mellow or become more complex. That is why for example a Gewurztraminer (light white wine) should be drunk immediately, while a fine Cabernet (heavy red wine) should be stored for 5 years or more before drinking. If the Gewurztraminer was left alone for 5 years, it would become vinegar. If the Cabernet was left alone for 5 years, the sulfites would keep it from vinegarizing, and the tannins would slowly settle out down over time, giving the wine a richer, more mellow flavor.

Eventually all wines turn to vinegar, though. Your aim is to find that ideal point where the wine is balanced in acids, tannins and flavors for your tongue. Normally a "long aging wine" will start out high in acids and tannins. Both fade away slowly over time, resulting in a perfectly balanced wine 5 or 10 years down the road.

View the Wine Aging Chart for more details about what wines should be drunk at what ages.

Experts still argue about the exact technical details of what a wine goes through during its aging process. For example, temperature is critical to a wine's aging. A wine stored at 55F will age slowly and gently. If you crank that heat up to 90F, you can destroy a wine in 2 days even if the rest of its aging was done properly. On the other hand, wines that went down in shipwrecks and were kept at 32F or below were 'stuck' in the aging process, frozen in time.

So the proper temperature helps a wine age. During that time, the tannins merge and settle, most of them becoming sediment at the bottle's bottom, while some small fragments remain suspended, now in balance with the rest of the wine. Because white wines have little to no tannins, they usually can't age very long. But a rich red will see the acids fade away, the tannins merge and settle out, and the fruit become more apparent. If you're able to taste a bottle each year, you'll watch as the wine matures, becomes more complex, and finally reaches its pinnacle of flavor.

Buy a case of your favorite Cab and find out for yourself!

Wine Basics Main Page

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.