Unpolished Grape 101: Young Wine Vs. Old Wine

Young Vs. Old (Aged)

Contrary to popular belief, most wines are made for immediate consumption and don’t improve much with age. In other words, the majority of wines will die an early death in your cellar if you hold on to them for too long. However, there are some grapes that mature better than others, and some wines that are intentionally made to withstand an aging process. These are the wines you can store in a cellar for years, or even decades until they reach their best flavor potential.

Generally speaking, young wines taste like fresh fruit, and aged wines taste like matured fruit and other flavors. The bright and fruity notes fade into developed, complex flavors that truly show a wine’s potential. For example, aged white wine can taste less like pears and peaches, and more like nuts, honey or petroleum. Or red wine can taste less like cherries and plum, and more like prunes, mushroom and game.

Wines mature with age as tiny amounts of oxygen seep through the barrel or cork closures and interact with the fruity liquid over the years. At some point, a wine reaches its peak development and then begins to decline in quality. This magic peak time isn’t always easy to pinpoint because it can depend on the grape, vintage, and wine-making techniques. However, most premium wine producers can tell you when the wine will probably reach its best quality.

White Wine

Young Fruit: Young white wine is divided into 4 fruit groups: Green, citrus, stone and tropical fruits. The majority of “simpler” white wines like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc are meant to be consumed within a few years, or these wines could fade into weak, flabby liquids.

Old Fruit: However, white wines with better aging prospects like some Chardonnays, Rieslings and Chenin Blancs can actually improve with time. Either, their fruit structure is more complex and can taste better as they mature, or secondary wine-making techniques help them to evolve. In these cases, the fresh fruits changes into developed fruit, like marmalade, orange jam or dried apricot.

Young Flavors: Young white wine can also have other flavors. Aromatic whites like Torrontés and Gewurztraminer pick up flowery notes such as blossom, jasmine or lavender. Other young whites can have strong herbaceous flavors like astringent tomato leaf or the green pepper and asparagus flavors found in Sauvignon Blanc. Wines like Albariño or Chablis can have salty and mineral notes, respectively.

Old Flavors: Aged white wine begins to pick up new flavors. Wine that spent any time in oak may have secondary flavors of spice and vanilla. Chardonnays that have undergone malolactic fermentation have buttery and creamy flavors suitable for aging. Riesling and Furmint can pick up honey and nut flavors over time. Aged whites that have had extended contact with their dead yeasts have toast and brioche flavors that further mature. Additional bottle-aged flavors can include cinnamon, ginger, mushroom, petrol, nutmeg, hay and wet leaves.

Color: White wine exposed to tiny amounts of oxygen in oak barrels or through the bottle cork over time will lose its vibrant color and turn brown.

Red Wine

Young Fruit: Young red wine is divided into 2 main fruit groups: Red fruit and black fruit. Fresh red fruit flavors include cherry, raspberry, red plum, strawberry, etc. Many wines like Pinot Noir or Mencía with bright red fruit are often enjoyed young. Fresh black fruit flavors include blueberry, black plum, black cherry, and black currant. Young Zinfandel or Shiraz may display juicy and powerful black fruit flavors, and maybe even have cooked or jammy fruit notes due to the grapes’ ripeness during harvest. Many inexpensive red wines made in mass-production will have basic fruit flavors and probably won’t improve with age.

Old Fruit: Red wines made to age like premium Cabernets, Nebbiolos or Riojas will improve over time. The fresh fruits change into developed fruit like dried cranberry, prune, fig, and cooked red plum.

Young Flavors: Young red wine can also have other flavors. Young Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc have notable green pepper or vegetable leaf notes. Syrah is known to have a black and white pepper taste in its youth. Other young flavors can include licorice, eucalyptus, and mint. Wines with some or little oak contact can also display cedar, cinnamon, smoke and charred wood characteristics.

Old Flavors: Aged red wine begins to pick up new flavors. Red wines deliberately exposed to oxygen over long periods of time could now evolve into almond, chocolate, coffee, toffee and hazelnut flavors. Bottle-aged wines can also develop flavors of meat, earth, tar, forest floor, wet leaves, barnyard mushroom or tobacco.

Tannin: Tannins are not a flavor. Rather, they are polyphenols (astringent chemical compounds found in grape skins). A young Tannat’s tannins are so astringent that your lips pucker and the wine isn’t very drinkable. As red wine ages and the oxygen interacts with wine, the tannins slowly soften and become smooth.

Color: Red wine exposed to tiny amounts of oxygen in oak barrels or through the bottle cork over time will lose its vibrant red color and turn brown.


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