Wine And Ageing
By Chris Pfeiffer
What makes a good aged wine?
A good aged wine will always remain true to its identity. The wine will still display fruit characteristics, once a wine has lost its fruit then it is considered to be past its best. The wine will be enhanced by the ageing process. In this process, compounds within the wine react with the small amount of air in the headspace between the wine and the closure. In this process new flavours develop, which add to the wine's characteristics. If we are enjoying an aged white wine, we may begin to see the development of biscuity and toasty characters. On tasting the wine, we expect to have a balanced palate of all the components eg fruit, acid, tannin and alcohol.
Can you keep a sweet/dry wine?
You can keep any style of wine, provided all the components are there. There are certain compounds within the wine that can help in the ageing process. Sugar, acid, tannin and alcohol, all in their own way, contribute to helping the wine age. There is no hard and fast rule.
What are the perfect conditions for growing a good wine?
A good wine is dependent on the fruit that you grow. Consequently the conditions that allow the grapes to develop steadily and slowly, generally gives us the best fruit. This fruit will have a good balance of fruit flavour, acid and sugar. The fruit flavour will be fine and not broad. If the fruit is in good condition and balance, then the winemaker can weave his skills and produce the good wine.
What types of wine won't keep and go off?
Any type of wine can be made to be enjoyed young with no ageing prospects. It is the winemaker's decision. These wines generally have fresh fruit characters when young with soft balanced palates and are at their best drunk young. Wines very rarely "go off". If a wine goes off then it will be spoiled, generally by micro-organism such as yeast and vinegar bacteria. This is such a rare occurrence once a wine is bottled that there would be winemakers who have not seen it. When a wine is past it, this is when a winemaker believes it has lost its fruit and no longer provides enjoyment. It will not harm you, as a "gone off" connotation suggests.
Can you age a white wine?
Yes, you certainly can. One of my greatest joys is to drink aged Riesling with its beautiful toasty characters and richness of flavour. Aged Hunter Valley Semillon is one of Australia's great wine styles. Aged chardonnay is also a great joy. What you notice with these wines is that, as they age, their colour deepens through golden hues, yet they still retain a sparkle. Sadly many people think that the wine has gone off when this happens and pour it down the sink, potentially missing some joys.
Ageing wine as an investment.
I don't age wine as an investment. I run a large cellar but it is for my enjoyment of the wines as they mature. If you want to invest in wine, then you need to be very careful. Very few wines appreciate in value in the marketplace on ageing. I believe that is principally due to people's lack of understanding of aged wine. If you want to invest, then you need to choose wines that are rated by a couple of agencies. The most famous Australian classification system of wine is Langton's, which bases their ratings on performance in the auction scene. Oddbins also have a classification listing based on their auctions. There is no guarantee that wine will appreciate, all it takes is a GFC for values to fall. You need to have spare money, if you are going to make this sort of investment.
The greatest joy in ageing wine is to mature your bottle and then open it with friends and enjoy it.