Should I drink it now?


Why not everything ages well.

Some wines can age gracefully, while others have a brief but beautiful lifetime.

I’m of an age to remember the advertising line “Where do you hide your Coolabah?”

Being a child at the time, I was amused by, but did not understand, the adverts with beautiful people at jolly parties who seemed so concerned about hiding their box of fruity lexia from others.

For those of more tender years, the wine cask invention in 1965, by Thomas Angove of the Riverland, was extremely novel, offering consumers the ability to purchase wine in bulk with the convenience of them having one or two glasses without the need to open a bottle (which could rapidly go brown and possess unpleasant bruised fruit aromas after 24 hours).

Often the cask is stored in the kitchen fridge. This is sensible, as cooler temperatures reduce oxygen uptake that causes premature development. But beware, cask wines usually have an expiry date of one year.

There is a wide-ranging notion that wines with age are better, but that is not always the case. It depends upon a number of factors including, but not limited to, grape variety, wine style and structure, winemaking processes and storage.

There has been a lot of conversation about phytonutrients within super foods. Wine tannins (phenolics) are a phytonutrient and are the anti-ageing cream for wine. They help prevent microbial attack and, along with acid and alcohols, will escort a wine into graceful dotage.

Most white wines will cellar for two to three years as they contain little tannin due to limited skin contact. Others, notably Champagne, Semillon, Riesling, Chardonnay, and sweet botrytised dessert wine, between 5-30 years due to their makeup.

A wine with higher ageing potential must have decent fruit intensity to start with. These are known as the primary aromas derived from grapes and fermentation.

With ageing they convert to the attractive, developed or tertiary characters of aged wine. This is because acids chemically react with alcohols and produce a variety of compounds that introduce a new aroma spectrum.

Furthermore, under acidic conditions other reactions occur where sugar molecules can be cleaved of flavour precursors and impart layers of flavour notes in old wines.

Red wines made for early consumption are usually fruit forward, less opulent, with softer tannin, lower alcohol and bright acid styles. More robust red wine with overt tannin, that will polymerise and give way to a softer mouthfeel and paler less red more orange/browner colour with age, will last longer.

I remember, from another life as a medical scientist preserving various animal organs in alcoholic solutions, that alcohol is a preservative. Acid, like tannin, with time will alter and soften, but will become apparent again when any fruity aromas and flavours present disappear, and tannin complexes precipitate out. This is probably when a wine is beyond its peak. However, if a wine does not have sufficient flavour, tannin and acid, then it is not likely to fare well with the vagaries of time.

Many red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, due to their higher tannin, acid and alcohol content, will age 20-30 plus years. Pinot Noir and Grenache, less so, two to eight years, as they have lower tannin content.

Storing wines to age assumes the lack of sunlight and that the closure is integral, and requires cool constant temperature, particularly for wines under cork. This slows the natural oxidation with ageing, prevents maderisation, and places less pressure on cork seals due to them drying out, or the glass bottle expanding and contracting.

Lying bottles down keeps the cork moist, preventing it drying and shrinking and compromising the seal. The move to screwcaps in the early 2000s has circumvented this problem (plus many faults) and means a wine will age even longer. Some winemakers and markets demand cork as they believe cork has a long history and reputation as a high-quality seal and screw caps indicate low quality wine, respectively. The latter is generally nonsense.

The nuances of aged wine do not appeal to all consumers. Luckily there are plenty of wines of all ages to suit diverse palates. Some wines can age gracefully, while others have a brief but beautiful lifetime and should be appreciated in their fresh and vibrant youth.

Our reviewer, Sue Bastian, is Associate Professor in Oenology and Sensory Studies, Manager WIC Sensory Laboratory, and Deputy Head of School, Agriculture, Food and Wine (International).

Tagged in Lumen Autumn 2024, Reviews