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Why Age Wines? One of the mysterious and romantic characteristics of wine is its amazing ability to improve with age. While many of the best wines improve with aging, wines need specific conditions to do so and in fact not all wines do improve with age.
Aging: After fermentation most wines undergo some type of aging prior to bottling. For very fresh wines that are meant to be drunk right away, this still can be skipped, but for more serious wines with more depth and complexity, aging helps them develop more complexity, bringing them into a more balanced wine, while also rounding out its finish, leading to a more complete wine. Aging can be done in many ways, the most common probably being aging in oak barrels. The type of oak used, the size of the barrels, the age of the barrels and the amount of charring of the oak can influence the effect this has on flavor tremendously. New oak, with higher char and smaller barrels can all lead a very toasty, oaky aroma and flavor to the wine, while larger, older, and less charred oak barrels just let the wine age without as much oak flavor influence. This is the choice of the winemaker depending on the style their looking for. During the aging process, the winemaker generally tastes the wine occasionally to determine when the wine is ready to bottle.
What is the Point of Aging Wine: Some wines start out very structured, with high levels of acidity and/or tannins. They can also begin simple, not showing the complexity and depth they have the potential for. Now in some cases this simply means it is a poor wine that will never be great. However, in some, aging wine will help to soften the wine, to round out the edges, adding complexity and generally bring the wine into harmony. Aging wine will not turn a bad wine into a good wine, in fact it often just makes it worse. What aging does is take a good wine that is suitable for aging and helps it reach its full potential, revealing more facets that were initially hidden and bringing the whole thing into harmony.
What Happens As a Wine Ages: As a wine ages, in ideal conditions, the oxygen that is in the bottle slowly reacts with the chemical compounds in the wine. These reactions alter the compounds in the wine, including the aromatic and flavor components. In generality, this tends to lead to more aromatic and flavor complexity. It also tends to mellow the tannins so that a wine with bold tannins in its youth become softened and silkier. Ideally, as the wine rounds out and mellows, the wine starts to show better, filling out and becoming more lush and seductive. Wines can even seem to expand and grow with air and age into a lush mouthful of wine. After a certain point however, the age can start to become too much. The flavors and structure can start to fade and eventually you are left with a wine that is lifeless, dull and dead. The window in the aging curve can be over decades, or it can be relatively quick, depending on the type of wine and the specific wine in question. So it can be hard to predict how a wine will evolve in bottle in its youth.