June 10, 2022 4 min read
If you aren’t aging the wines you buy, you are not alone. I hear it time and time again in the wine business, “75-85% of all wines purchased are consumed within 24-48 hrs.” I heard a version of this same statistic again this morning at a winemaking seminar. Winemakers and winery owners know that most people don’t age their wines for long. Many people drink their wine the same day they buy it! These days, aging and cellaring wine for years or even decades before they’re consumed makes zero business sense and goes against what the consumers want.
Let’s do a little math. If mostpurchased wines are consumed as soon as possible, then most wines will be produced in a way that makes them ready to be consumed upon release. In this regard, red wines are a little more complicated than white wines, so we will break down each. First, we need to review tannin- the main reason wines are aged, historically.
Tannin is a natural chemical from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes (wines can also pick up tannin from contact with wood, like oak barrels). This family of molecules has many different sizes and shapes and acts in different ways, but long story short… they are astringent and/or bitter. No or low tannin = no or low bitterness. Red wines have higher tannin, and white wines have lower tannin.
For more info on tannins, check out an article here.
White wines are… well… white. If made in the standard way, white wine will have started as juice that was pressed away from the grape’s skin. This skin is then discarded - whether it’s white or red skin (yep, you can make white wine from red grapes). The collected juice is then fermented. The main point is that juice fermented off skin typically has extremely low tannin. Therefore, there are no tannins that need to be softened. Hence, you may consume when your heart desires!
If you are drinking white wine, it’s safe to say that you won’t be looked at in scorn by a wine aficionado for drinking it too “young.” It is true that some white wines such as Riesling do get better with age. Some of these wines age very well and can be phenomenal when consumed after years. But overall, if you have a white wine, go ahead and drink it. Don’t worry too much about the details.
Older white wine (left) is less fruity and more savory. The younger wine (right) will be a lot more fruity and fun.
Red wines are made from various kinds of grapes. You can find them light, medium, and heavy in color, varying in skin thickness and tannins. Color and skin thickness are highly correlated to the tannins on a finished wine. For instance, Pinot Noir is a thinner-skinned grape with less color and less tannin. Conversely, Cabernet Sauvignon is a smaller grape with thicker skin and darker color. The resulting wines from these two varieties of grape are very different. Pinot is a good wine for new wine drinkers and can easily be consumed young (less tannin). Cabernet Sauvignon is a heavier, chewier wine (more tannin) that benefits from twice as much time in the barrel (to help soften the tannins) and can benefit from aging. Cabernet can age for 10-20 years, while Pinot Noirs, in general, will last 5-10 years. There are other factors, but tannin is one of the most influential in this scenario.
Check out this nifty chart for tannin structure on some of the worlds most popular red grapes.
The most ageable wine?
One of the most ageable wines I have ever had is made from the Nebbiolo grape - especially if it is from the Barolo region of Italy. These wines are NOT cheap and can age for 30+ years. Try one next to a Pinot Noir from California sometime… you’ll see what we mean.
A graphic showing Barolo profile from Wine Insiders. A big reason why Barolo is so ageable is because it has high tannins and also really high acid. The combination of the two makes the wine almost undrinkable at release.
So why are wines easier to drink younger now?
The fact of the matter is that people are drinking wines sooner than they used to. This means that wines are more often made in style to accommodate that fact. These wines are less tannic, softer, and even a little sweeter. See our YouTube episode on sweetness here- it’s an interesting topic. In earlier consumption, the wines are less acidic (a natural preservative) resulting in a decreased ability for the wine to age. In turn, a less acidity results in a wine that is softer and more rounded early on.
In comparison, a wine with high tannin and acid (like a young Barolo) may feel like your mouth had a run-in with a cocoa powder-covered lemon… intense.
Lowering the combination of these two makes the wine easier to drink, sometimes bordering on “flabby” (a term used to describe a wine with low acidity and high PH resulting in an unbalanced wine that is not very enjoyable). It might be a little like drinking a flat, warm soda.
In short, many wines don’t need to be aged in the current wine paradigm. That said, those same wines are often lacking a little something. The deeper into wine you get, the more fun it is to experience the difference between these two kinds of wines. Though, we are just glad to have you drinking and experiencing wine!
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