Do the higher alcohol reds age as superbly as the more moderate alcohol level reds?
Whether or not a wine can be aged is not cut-and-dry, as the overall composition of the wine must first be considered. Generally, there are four traits that contribute to a wine’s suitability for successful aging. These are:
- Acid level
- Alcohol level
We chat with Tynan’s View vigneron, Ken Waldron, to find out more about these qualities and his advice for ageing wine successfully.
Ken has said the higher the sugar content in the grape, the more age-worthy the wine. What this means is that a wines alcohol percentage is determined during the fermentation process, when sugar is converted to alcohol.
Our vigneron has said that wine that is purposefully more acidic provides extra protection against unstable alcohol. Therefore, the more acidic a wine, the longer it will last in a cellar. However, as wine ages it slowly loses it acidic flavour and often smooths out making for easier drinking. Despite this, it’s worth noting that the level of acidity does not change as wine ages, it is constant.
Tannins are what give red wine its bitterness and astringency, coming from the skins, seeds and even oak ageing. For red wine, it is one of the components that allows the wine to age well as the tannins act as the structure for sweet, fruity, tart and robust flavours.
As with acidity in a wine, a wine with well-balanced tannins will slowly smooth out over time. You may even notice that as the tannins break down, they end up sinking to the bottom of the bottle to create a sediment. This essentially removes the tannins from the wine’s composition, resulting in a wine that will get mellower as the years pass.
As with sugar content in grapes, climate and grape variety also have considerable impact on how alcohol levels vary in wine. Hotter climates expose the vine to more sunshine, producing more sugar and ripening the grapes faster.
But will a higher alcohol content equal a better wine?
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn’t simply evaporate over time. However, the way alcohol is perceived can instead change over time. What this means is that as primary flavours fade and secondary flavours thrive, the alcohol can appear to become more or less pronounced. This also depends on your taste as wines with a higher alcohol content are fuller in body and produce more intense, bold flavours. While wine lower in alcohol can tend to offer greater balance and pair better with food.
On this, Ken also notes that alcohol content is unstable in non-fortified wine and so can more easily turn into acid, potentially causing wine to have the taste of vinegar. Non-fortified wine is any variety with an average alcohol content between 11-16%. Ken concludes by saying that because of these factors, lower alcohol wines can age better and for longer.
One good method for trying ageing wine is to buy multiple bottles of an age-worthy wine and wait to open your bottles gradually. Try opening a bottle in two years, a second in five and note the path of evolution and decide which stage you prefer. The evolutionary path a bottle will take varies, depending on the type of wine, the style of the producer and the conditions of the vintage.
If you are storing wine for aging, it is best kept in dark cool storage with a consistent temperature to allow for slow and even maturation. Higher temperatures accelerate the rate of chemical reactions in a wine while ultraviolet rays in light can spoil wine.
You may like to use this aging chart to get you thinking about different varieties of red wine and how long to cellar them for.
Image Source: winefolly.com