I’m frequently asked how old a bottle wine should be before it is ready to drink. This is something that has been debated and disagreed upon wine as long as wine has been bottled.
First, you have to consider that there are two types of aging most wine will go through, barrel aging and bottle aging. Not all wine will spend time in a barrel. Some may go from a stainless steel tank to the bottle. This is particularly true with whites. Time in the barrel is relatively short, usually from a couple of months to three years, with most being one to two years. Of course, there are always a few exceptions. This is a decision the wine maker must make, depending on the type of flavors they are trying to develop.
Bottle aging is simply the time from the wine entering the bottle, until it is consumed. This is where the discussion and disagreement lies, since it is a decision made by whoever owns the bottle of wine. Many people are under the impression that the older the bottle is, the better it is. This is simply not true.
As wine enters the bottle it begins its journey through time. Every new bottle will begin to evolve and improve, until it reaches the point where it can not get any better. After that it will slowly start to die. It will begin to lose the qualities that made it great as it breaks down in the bottle. So, how can anyone know when the wine is just right to drink ? Well, there is no single correct answer.
First, and possibly most importantly, each bottle is different. Some wines are made to drink young. They will reach their peak at an early age, and are ready to drink as soon as the producer sells them. This can be as little as a year or less for some. Others are made to be held for several years before they are ready to drink, some as long as thirty years and more. Let your personal preference and your past experiences be your guide. There are vintage guides available which will usually offer a time range, but still, everyone has different tastes. While most people would agree there are general timelines for any wine, some like them older, some like them younger.
Here’s what you can expect from your wine as it ages. Whites take on more color while reds will lose color. Purple wines will become garnet or rust colored, while whites will become more yellow and eventually brown. Tannins will soften, becoming smoother and has less sharp. Fruit flavors fall off and the wine will become more about structure and texture. Generally speaking, old world wines will lend themselves to aging better than new world, reds will age longer than whites, and higher end wines will last longer than less expensive ones. There is also nostalgia and a sentiment in drinking aged wine. What were you doing during the year it was on the vine ? Think of it as a bit of history in a bottle, becoming more and more rare every year, as other bottles the same age are consumed. Do these qualities make it better to drink ? You be the judge.