All wine improves with age?
The old adage “all wine improves with age” is just partially true. Only a few types of wines actually get better as they age. Only about 10% of red wines and 5% of white wines taste better after aging five years compared to aging one full year.
Nearly all wines nowadays are designed to be appreciated shortly after bottling. According to Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, it is more typical now that wine is being consumed past its prime instead of while it's too young.
Generally speaking, many wines start to lose most of their fruitiness and charm after being bottled for just 6 months. What happens is wines with a lower pH, such as Pinot Noir, hold the greatest capability to get better with age. A lesser pH is usually attained in red wine from the addition of tannins, thus raising the quantity of phenolics in the wine. White wines which do well with age are those which have a high acidity level. The phenols and acid present in these wines work as a preservative and begin to break down and mellow out with time.
These days, many wine makers are beginning to bottle wines once they feel the wine is at the highest point of flavor. This is partly due to the fact that wine makers know that customers have become a 'microwave society' - meaning consumers wouldn't like to buy a bottle of wine and have to have to wait to drink it until it matures in the cellar. We want to buy a bottle of wine and uncork it that evening.
When white wine is made, the producer aimed to keep the skin contact to a minimum. Having contact creates phenols and tannins in the wine and keeping the contact down means the wine should have significantly less phenolic substances. Really the only time these phenols are released occurs when the wine is fermented in oak barrels or is left to age within the oak barrels. The exposure to the wood over a prolonged time frame will impart a modest amount of phenols into the wine, however, not enough to make aging after the wine is bottled worth it. The same goes for rose wines, thus reducing their aging potential.
In contrast to white wines, reds possess a high percentage of skin contact when making the wine and are usually filled with bitter tannins. As the red wine ages, the harsh taste of tannin gradually gives way to a softer, more full-bodied wine. This is often observed in the color change, coming from a deep red, almost black, to a less heavy red as it gets older. When the wine is past its prime, the color becomes a brownish hue.
As the tannins begin to surrender some of their bitterness, sediment begins to form at the base of the bottle. The existence of this sediment generally suggests a more mature red wine, but is split up out by decanting to avoid the bitter taste. Vintage Ports and other bottle-aged Ports as well as some Sherries will benefit from some additional maturing, but a majority of other red wines begin to decline after three to five years.
As wines start to age, their floral bouquets will start to become more notable, however nowadays the majority of this aging is done prior to when the wines are ever bottled, thus allowing us to visit the store, pick up a bottle and enjoy it at its peak that evening.