Highly sought-after, aged wines are generally considered to be particularly fine. Not every wine has the potential to improve in quality during the aging process. Liebherr’s Master Sommelier Frank Kämmer explains the mysteries of wine aging.
Wine is an unusual beverage. It can sometimes have considerable storage life. Although it only contains a few milligrams of sulphite to preserve it from oxidation, it sometimes appears as if wine has the miraculous ability to hold back time, and last for centuries! The legends extolling the qualities of very old wines should not to be taken at face value. If you cling on wholeheartedly to the adage: “the older the better”, you are most likely going to have to face some drastic disappointments when you open and sample some of your more mature wines!
Wine Aging: The type of wine is key
There are only a few exceptional vines that have the potential to produce grapes with juices that possess truly dignified, Methuselah-like aging qualities. Wines can be roughly divided into three categories: those which lose quality with storage, those which can maintain their quality over a specific time period, and finally, those that really do improve when stored in the cellar or a wine cabinet for years. The first group is the largest by far: The simple table wines we consume on an everyday basis. These are intentionally produced to taste at their best when purchased. They should never be bought with the intention of laying them down.
Higher quality wines, depending on origin and type, may well be suited to cellaring for quite some time. In the course of the wine aging process, their character will change. This will not always equate to a positive change, nor any noticeable improvement in a wine’s quality. The third category of wines, the really fine wines, have the potential to improve and gain refinement within the bottle as the years pass. Even for top quality wines, never assume that favorable aging and development are the natural end result.
Wine won’t keep forever
Even the most enduring great wine has a highly individualized life-cycle. It follows the path of an ascending and descending curve, rather than increasesing linearly. After a period of refinement, a great wine will reach a plateau of maximum quality. A good vintage will often maintain this quality over many years. In the end, even the finest juice of the vine will follow the destiny of all mortal things. It will leave its plateau of peak maturity and begin a – hopefully – slow and gentle descent. Fine wines which are in decline from their zenith quality can still be very good to drink. A certain amount of respect and humility is required in order to take real pleasure in the consumption of a particularly old wine.
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