Aging and Cellaring

Cellaring and Aging Wines

 

The era of privilege and education for the few is over, and with it the unveiling of any mystique involved in collecting wines.  As we sample and learn about wine it necessarily follows that we will wish to save a few bottles over the years; some enjoyment can be derived from obtaining the last few bottles of a vintage or from savoring the ever changing nuances of a well aged wine.  Sadly, most collectors fail to realize that it actually isn’t imperative to age the vast majority of wine produced and that we simply spend far too much time and money towards this goal.  Less than 3% of all wine will benefit from time in the bottle and it is better to view your cellar as items with a shelf life, destined to survive the years, not mature.

Let us first ask whether the wine will improve.  The object of aging is to (1) develop more pleasurable nuances, (2) to expand and soften, or “melt” the tannins, and (3) to provide more compelling aromatics and flavors.  This indicates that we need wines with actual tannic structure from the start; most young wines do not possess this quality and certainly the vast portion of white wine cannot.  It is also true that fruit, while deepening into darker flavors, actually lessens during the years.  Why then do we not enjoy these wines when the most potential fruit exists? In many cases, young is good.  For instance, with the exception of some Burgundies, Pinot Noir can be best enjoyed now.  This is especially true when we factor in the amount of alcohol in many of the Californian styled Pinot Noir.  Wine masters the world over have often aged their wine (in the vat or bottle) prior to release and well know that it is drinking more than admirably today.

For the wines that we do cellar, a great portion should be consumed along the way, with an eye to the previously mentioned survival of the whole.  For the other 3% or less, let us determine the factors that best allow for proper aging.    

 

  • Light– the proteins break down, oxidation occurs, thus yellowing or “maderizing” our wine.
  • Vibration– a well known hastener of premature age failure
  • Temperature– though slow rises and falls can work, we strive for 55 – 75 degrees average. The life span of wines over 70 degrees is <10 years, often shorter; under 55 degrees is actually worse overall.
  • Air Flow/ Humidity– 65 to 70% is optimal humidity for cork life, yet too much is label death and potentially inviting to mold/bacteria.  Breezy is better than pent up; arid climates reduce the life expectancy by up to half.
  • Corks– have a life of 25 -30 years and must be replaced by a reputable dealer.
  • All refrigeration is too cold; wines must be consumed within that calendar year.
  • Storage is horizontal with notable exceptions for Port, Sherry and Madera due to high alcohol.

 

Four Questions for the Collector in You:

{I}           Where can we store wine – with what conditions (or modifications), and to what capacity?

{II}         Who is helpful – how to chose? The Internet, Tastings/ dinners, wine clubs, magazines & ratings, private consultants and specialty retailers can be of great value to the beginning collector.

{III}        What shall we stock?  To be globally accurate, a minimum of 75 bottles is necessary, specially tailored cellars can be of even less.  The general public drinks 52% red wine; collectors drink in excess of 70% red wine. We should remember both what our family and friends enjoy and where the emerging markets are, as they save money and have yet to be written into the books.

{V}         When are we going to drink the wines?  Remember that 97% are best consumed within 4 years.  It is also good to plan on opening at least one bottle of each other wine every year to keep an eye on maturation, teach ourselves the ageing process, and to enjoy the fruits of our labors!