I was recently gifted with Kevin Zraly’s wonderful 2008 edition of Windows of the World Complete Wine Course. While a number of things may have changed in seven years, Zraly’s explanation of what makes a wine last more than five years is wonderfully written and I’m quite sure stands the test of time.
Here is what the book, these sites and I have to say about what makes a wine last more than five years.
For starters, it’s important to realize that most wine, especially North American wine, is produced for immediate consumption.
Ten or so years ago, I read a study where they were trying to figure out how long Americans age their wine. The answer: 17 minutes. The time it takes to drive home from the store.
North American wine makers realize that we don’t do well with delayed gratification. So they reward us with wines that can be consumed almost immediately.
Five Conditions that Play an Important Role in Making a Wine Last More than Five Years
With that said, it’s good to know that there are a number of wines that improve with age. Zraly highlights five conditions that play an important role in making a wine last more than five years.
- The color of the grape: Red wines tend to age better than whites due to the fact that red wines have extended contact with the grape skin. Grape tannin, which is important to ageability, comes from the skins (and seeds and leaves) of a wine grape.
- The type of grape: The thicker the grape skin, the more tannin. So grapes with thicker skins, such as Cabernet and Barolo, are more age worthy than grapes with thinner skins, such as Pinot Noir.
- The vintage: According to Zraly, “The better the weather conditions in one year, the more likely the wines from that vintage will have a better balance of fruits, acids, and tannins, and therefore have the potential to age longer.”
- Where the grapes come from: The better the conditions of a vineyard (soil, weather, drainage, soil, etc.), the better chances that the wine can age.
- How the wine was made: Wine making techniques such as oak aging and lengthened periods of time where the juice is in contact with the grape skin contribute to the amount of tannin in the wine, which contributes to its ageability.
- Wine storage conditions: It’s sad to say that even the most age-worthy wines will need to be drunk tomorrow if stored improperly. Wine is incredibly sensitive and can age well beyond its years by a few intense temperature changes. To make wine last more than five years, you need to store it in a 55-degree cellar where it won’t be subject to any extreme conditions.
- Price: Somebody taught me that price is the most important determinant of the age worthiness of a wine. Any wine whose original retail price is $10 or less should be drunk as soon as possible, even if it’s a Cabernet or Barolo. On average, the higher the original retail price, the more age worthy a wine is.
If you have any other thoughts about what makes a wine last more than five years, please share them here. Thanks.