We regularly talk about vintages, and how many years a wine is good for, or how long the vintner aged their wine before selling it. However, you may have noticed we really only discuss this in regards to red wines, not white.
So why is this? Why do we age red wines instead of whites?
Well, white wines can definitely be aged, but unlike red wines, their prime is right when they’re bottled or within the first couple years. Red wines get better with age because their flavors evolve in a robust way.
When you first open a bottle of any wine, you’re getting what is known as the primary flavor palate. These are the flavors of the grape itself, typically the flavors that will be noted on the bottle itself. When a wine ages, the secondary and tertiary palates evolve and become more known, tastes and flavors that may only become present because of the chemical process that happens in aging.
The reason why reds do better over time is because they’re fermented with their skins, and the skins hold the tannins and acidity. Most of the time, a wine will be the most tannic and the most acidic when it’s first bottled because it’s only gone through the first stages of fermentation. When you allow a wine to sit and age, you’re encouraging further fermentation which essentially breaks things down even further and allows for new flavors, aromas, and sweetness to emerge.
White wine, on the other hand, while it can technically be aged, is going to be its best almost immediately. There is less to ferment as they aren’t produced with their skins, so the flavors might evolve to a lesser level of quality. Because they are less acidic, the chemical breaking down can happen a little quicker, causing them to actually go bad.
Yes, wine can go bad! (It will smell more like vinegar when you open it, a signal that the alcohol has taken over.)
As red wines age, they tend to mellow out (in a good way) and become smoother and more robust in their taste. If you visualize the fermentation of a grape, the skin will become soft, basically mushy, and becomes more of a liquid state. Well, that’s what happens to the flavors too! Now think about your favorite white wine. You probably love it for that crisp, bright, beautiful mouthfeel – you probably wouldn’t want that to get soft and mushy, would you?
That being said, there are wines that can be aged, and some that shouldn’t. On a good bottle of wine, there will be notes on the label letting you know the vintage (when it was picked), and when it should be consumed. If you can’t find those notes, then you should probably consider drinking that bottle in the near future!
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