It is a common misconception in the “wine world” that all wines will benefit from some sort of aging. Most wines are however drunk within the first months of purchase and as such are produced in a way as to be drunk in its youth. Select wines do benefit vastly from correct cellaring when aged in bottles. The truth being that these wines are not only made to be aged, but that it requires superior terroirs and precision vinicultural techniques that render concentrated, ripe, phenolicly rich grapes, to craft these wines.
Which begs the question, what exactly happens to wine during cellaring? And how does ageing affect the quality and drinking sensation of these wines? In short the wine will evolve in colour, aroma, taste and mouthfeel due to intricate reactions between the acids, sugars, alcohols, esters and phenolic compounds present in the wine.
Typically the colour of young wine is bright, dark red, with a hint of purple on the edge. This is explained as the anthocyanins are in an unstable monomeric state and is highly influenced by wine pH and acidity. As wines age, minute amounts of oxygen entering the wine through the ‘breathable’ cork plays a key part in polymerizing tannins and anthocyanins together. This allows the wine to form stable tannin-anthocyanin compounds, less intense in colour but much more stable. This colour is still very much pure but lacking the purple hints. This is something that we can expect from a good age-worthy wine. If this process is accelerated or too much oxygen is exposed to the wine it will cause the polymerization process to continue to such a degree that the tannin-anthocyanin complexes will precipitate, causing the brick red hue, we are accustomed to see in very old wines.
Aromas present in wine can are subdivided. Primary aromas are derived from fermentation related yeast metabolites, Cultivar true aromas including esters and higher alcohols. Secondary aromas are derived from external processes, such as barrel maturation. Tertiary aromas are the evolutionary aromas evolving from intricate alteration, degradation and synthesis of primary aromas.
During fermentation, the yeast present has the ability to convert precursors of aromas present in the grapes into actual aromas through their metabolic activities. These are very bold and fruity and typically what one would expect to occur and dominate in young wines. As wine ages the compounds from which these fruity aromas derive are hydrolysed, gradually causing these aromas to subside slightly. The great thing is that not all these hydrolysed molecules are lost but can indeed be used as substrates to form new, more nuanced, complex aromas. At the same time the loss of the more powerful fermentation derived aromas, allows the more subtle, yet complex cultivar expressive aromas to surface. The last effect that Mother Time has on wine aroma is perfectly integrating all of the aromas present. A perfectly aged wine is one where no one aroma is overpowering another. The wine should be nuanced and layered, while retaining purity and vibrancy.
The taste and mouthfeel is probably the single most important dimension in wine and is greatly influenced by the phenolic compounds present in the wine. Of these phenolic compounds, tannins have the most prominent effects. Over time, and again with the help of minute amounts of oxygen, these tannins start to polymerise, forming longer chains of tannins, perceived as being softer. At the same time the acid in the wine will also precipitate in small amounts. These two effects will cause wine to become more subtle, allowing the more delicate nuances to surface. This result in a much more complex, rich, nuanced and layered mouthfeel.
At De Toren one of our main objectives are to make wines that age well, yet is accessible at a younger age. The yearly vertical tasting of all our De Toren Fusion V and De Toren Z vintages is to evaluate the present practices and to see how these evolve in the bottle over years. It is amazing to see how the earliest vintages of De Toren Fusion V dating back an odd 18 years are still evolving, gaining in complexity and character. This just again affirms the belief that we have in our amazing terroir to produce world class, age worthy Bordeaux styled blends.