Erik Neilson on April 5, 2017 0 Comments It’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that aged wine has a wealth of different connotations associated with it. Terms such as “reserve,” “cellared” and others that call to mind wine that has in some way been stored away for a period of time tend to be used to push sell a particular wine, but why? People generally tend to assume that wines that have seen age are “better” than younger wines, but the reality is that the vast majority of wines are released with the intention of being able to drink immediately. Some, on the other hand, need to sit for awhile. There’s a difference between wines that can stand up to a few years in the cellar and those which will actually benefit from being laid down, and in most cases, it comes down to the type of grape dominant within the bottle. Certain grapes simply do better with time, which allows their flavor profiles to open up and flood the senses in a number of different ways. Before moving into which grapes to choose for aging, however, let’s consider why aging should even be considered as a process. Understanding the Aging Process A great deal of red and white wines tend to be relatively mellow, lacking the massive amounts of tannins that can make certain fresh wines almost impossible to drink. These are not candidates for aging, simply because the process would cause them to fall apart in the bottle and possibly even turn a nasty shade of brown. But how about those grapes that are so intensely tannic that they cause instant puckering? Interestingly enough, these are the wines that beg for aging, as the difference between a super tannic wine that has some time on it and one that is freshly bottled can be astounding to say the very least. The same can be said for wine that is highly acidic. Excessive acid can be enough to ruin a glass of wine when it’s fresh, but with a little bit of age, the acidic compounds will soften nicely to create a much smoother drinking libation. How Does Age Affect Wine? It comes down to the complex process of oxidation, in which oxygen makes contact with the wine and changes its flavor profile. No matter how well-sealed your bottle of wine happens to be, there’s no doubt that it will undergo oxidation over a long enough period of time. When wines that lack tannic structure or acidity undergo the aging process, they simply cannot stand up to the changes brought on by oxidation. Wines that are intensely tannic/acidic, however, are an entirely different story—they’re practically born to be aged prior to consumption. 3 Grapes to Consider Aging Interested in getting a better sense of how much of a difference age can have on a bottle of wine? You’ll do well by knowing which grapes to work with. Fortunately, there are countless grapes that fit the bill, many of which are widely available and inexpensive enough to allow you to stock your cellar without concern of breaking the bank. Bordeaux may be the pinnacle of hyper-ageable wines, but there’s no reason to spend $100+ on a single bottle if you don’t already have a cellar full of wine. Ready to start that cellar? Here are a handful of grapes that have no problem aging gracefully after being “put away” for a while. 1) Cabernet Sauvignon Ah, Cabernet. Considered by many to be wine’s most sumptuous frontier, Cabernet Sauvignon gets by on its lush, bold flavors, firm tannins and richly structured acidity. It should come as no surprise, then, that Cabernet is absolutely ideal for aging. Sure, there are Cabs on the market that are released with the idea of drinking them fresh top-of-mind for producers, but many bottles — particularly those from the Medoc Region of France — require at least a year or two of softening to reach peak drinkability. Bear in mind, however, that California Cabernet Sauvignon and that from other New World production regions may not be ideal for aging. This has mainly to do with the fact that New World wine tends to be more fruit-forward than Old World wines, which is reason enough to drink them before these intense flavors fade away forever. 2) Syrah Like Cabernet, Syrah tends to be one of the “bigger” red grapes used in wine production. Slightly smokey and laden with flavors such as black cherry, stewed plums and cassis, Syrah is what many wine lovers choose for a nightcap by a roaring fire. It tends to also feature strong tannins that don’t seem to want to give way, at least not quite as soon as most people would prefer. Thus, fresh Syrah can be a bit of a challenge, which is why so many people put Syrah-based wines in the cellar for a few years to mellow out. When it comes to ageable Syrah, you’ll find some in California, but the same principle of New World vs. Old World applies to this grape as it does to Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the best Syrah in the world comes from Rhone, France, and it also happens to be some of the most ageable Syrah you’ll find. With only a few years on it, you can expect the best French Syrah to be not only drinkable, but a veritable epiphany. 3) Riesling While it’s true that most white wines are not exactly meant to be aged and should instead be drank practically as soon as they’re bottled, this isn’t true for certain grapes — particularly Riesling. Riesling can actually be on the sweeter side when fresh, even if it’s fermented to be dry. In the same ways that aging can result in reduced tannic structure and acidity, it can also help to tame the sweetness inherent in many examples of Riesling. There are a number of excellent producers located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, but German Riesling is the correct choice when it comes to aging. So don’t just throw any random bottle into your cellar. Choose grapes that will age properly in the bottle, and watch as they develop over time.