The Aging Process Behind a Bottle of Wine
Though some wines can be enjoyed shortly after they are bottled, most of the very best wines are to be allowed to age.
Sometimes, they are aged for half a century before they are consumed.
Why does time make some wines taste so good?
Winemakers age wine to allow their best character to fully ripen. This means the tannins, esters, aldehydes, sugars, minerals, pigments and acids that make up the wine resolve and harmonize. This can only be done through the application of time and oxygen.
A little bit of History
Before the late 19th century, wine that had to be shipped from place to place often went bad. This was especially troublesome for French winemakers, so Napoleon III tasked Louis Pasteur with the job of finding out why this was.
Pasteur discovered that the growth of vinegar bacteria was promoted by the wine having too much contact with air and therefore oxygen. If only a small amount of oxygen came in contact with the wine, it led to an aging process that matured the wine instead of making it vinegary and undrinkable.
The action of the oxygen had to be stopped at the right moment, for it would continue to act on the wine until it went bad. Sulfur dioxide (or sulfites) are often used to proected wines against axidation and spoilage.
The Winemaking Side
Winemakers soon discovered that every grape and every vintage of wine matured in its own time. It depends on how ripe the grapes are and their blend of sugars, acids and water. While the grape is still on the vine, this can change from one day to the next, but the experienced winemaker knows when to pick the grape for the best vintage.
After the grapes are fermented and turned into wine, the winemaker needs to choose if they want the wine to be fresh and grapey, which means it will need to be protected from air until it goes into the bottle, or if they want the wine to mature and have just the right interaction with air and oxygen.
A bottle of wine that should not be opened right away needs to be looked after properly so that it is at peak flavor when it’s time to drink it.
Fortunately, this isn’t difficult. The connoisseur doesn’t need to build a wine cellar, but they do need to find a dark place where the wine can lie quietly at the same temperature.
The bottle needs to be lying down because this keeps the cork from drying out. When it dries out, it shrinks and can let in unwanted air. The temperature can range from 45 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for most wines, but it needs to stay constant. It is important to know, however, that warmer temperatures cause wine to mature faster.
Some wine experts recommend that a young wine should lie down until it reaches maturity. The time of its maturity depends on its vintage, which is the year the wine was made. Vintage also denotes that the wine is of high quality. For example, the 2004 California Cabernet Sauvignon was considered an exceptional vintage, and in 2017, it is now ready to drink.
About Decanting Wine
One way to speed up the maturity of a young wine is to decant it. The oxygen in a bottle of young wine has not had much time to work on it, and if the wine is decanted, it is aerated and comes into its own very quickly. Some connoisseurs can taste the difference in an hour.
To decant a bottle of wine, lay the bottle in a wine basket so that the sediment stays on the bottom, then open it and pour the wine into a decanter until sediment is seen in the shoulders of the bottle. If the wine is dark, hold the bottle near a lit candle to be able to see the sediment. When most of the wine has been poured into the decanter, discard the bottle with the bit of sediment in it.