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.
To be safe, I did some research on a few more sites, including FineWineConcierge.com and WineFolly.com.
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.
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Betty Kaufman, WineShop At Home
Barolo is not a grape, it’s a wine made with Nebbiolo grape.
I would argue that skin thickness has got an influence on aging potential: after all, some Burgundian Pinot Noir can age for long. And/or Syrah’s skins are not that thin, but i.e. an Ermitage can last for long.
Regarding the vintage, it can seldom happen that good weather conditions convince the producers to overripe the grapes, making final wines with lower acidity, that is an obstacle to aging.
IMHO, and there are plenty of examples about that, what is really important for aging potential are balance, acidity and body, more or less in this order.
Hi Riccardo. Thank you so much for your comments. Yes, I know that Barolo is not a grape. My bad. And yes, I agree with you that some Red Burgundies can last a long time. In fact, on my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/winetastingsandmore, just yesterday I wrote that we enjoyed a wonderful 2005 Burgundy this week, and that I had never tasted a Pinot Noir that old. CA Pinots definitely don’t last that long. So when you talk about balance, acidity and body, in the case of a Red Burgundy, is that all due to the terroir? Can you talk more about that? Thanks!
Terroir is definitely important, but add the age of the vines, permitting more balanced ripeness, i.e. increasing sugar levels without losing acidity, and thus gaining more tannic velvetness.
More, if You choose to pick slightly earlier (with tannins anyway ripe), You have more aging potential because acidity is higher.
Again, even winemaking style is important (after all it is part of the terroir in terms of interpretation of soil and climate conditions): choice of fermentation temperature, length of maceration, choice of kind and barrel dimension of the oak used for the aging, rackings, etc. etc.
I greatly appreciate your insight. Thank you so much.