It’s true that an aged wine has unique flavors and textures that young wines simply can’t embody. Wine is a living organism, ever-evolving and changing. An article by Wine Enthusiast describes it better than I can:

"Nothing in wine is ever static. Acids and alcohols react to form new compounds. Other compounds can dissolve, only to combine again in another fashion. These processes happen constantly and at different rates. Every time you open a bottle, you catch the wine at another stage in its development, with new and different nuances. While the proportion of alcohol, acids and sugars stay the same, the flavors continue to change."

So, aside from the few traits of wine itself, the way the wine is stored, the variety of the grape, winemaking style, and the cork all contribute to this process as well. Did you know, though, that 95% of wines are actually meant to be drunk within 5 years of its harvest? That tells us that most wine worldwide is consumed young. Still, many are curious why wine has the capacity to age well. Here are the 3 major factors in a wine that determine a wine's ability to age.

#1 Tannins

The first reason why some wines age well is the textural component in wine called tannins. Tannins contribute to the bitterness of red wine and come from the stems, seeds and skins of grapes. A few tannins also come from barrels used to age wine, especially new oak. As any winemaker will tell you, the chemical nature of tannins evolve during the winemaking process, especially during oak aging and bottle aging. So, while tannins help a wine age well by keeping the structure of the wine together, it should also be well-balanced. Then, as the tannins soften with passing time, the flavor components of the wine will hold up and not fall flat on your palate.

#2 Acidity

Acidity in wine is one thing that makes you crave another sip. Wines that tastes fresh and crisp have higher acidity levels, and create a clean feeling in your mouth. Both red and white wines can be described as crisp, fresh, and bright. Concerning aging, acidity levels don't actually change, but the perception of acid does. The wine will move from fresh and crisp to dull and flat. The amount of time for this process varies significantly for each varietal. But, a general rule is that wines which begin with a higher acidity will taste better after aging than wines with lower acidity levels.

#3 Alcohol Level

The fermentation process of wine is as long as the time required for the yeast to convert the sugar from the grapes to alcohol. Generally, the make for a great aging wine is a balance between tannins, acidity, and alcohol. For example, if you have an overtly high alcohol content, by the time that has mellowed enough to drink, the acidity levels could be low enough that the wine is no longer enjoyable.

Remember, not all wines get better with age. As I mentioned above, 95% of wine is consumed within 5 years of it's harvest date. In fact, my dad and I make it a habit to have nothing in our personal cellars older than 10 years. And generally, most of the vintage dates are within 6 years, the others being set aside for specific aging purposes. The worst possible moment for me is to open a wine that you've spent years aging, and it doesn't taste as good as it did if you had drank it earlier. I encourage you all to take a look at your cellars and open a bottle of your oldest wine to make sure it is worth continuing to age!

-Natalie