Aging Wine; The Need To Knows

“You get better with age like a fine wine…” ❤️

We’ve all heard sayings like this before that leave us to believe that all fine wine gets better with age.  This is partly true – many fine wines do get better with some age – but which wines are meant for aging and how long they should be aged, is actually quite a complex topic.  Then there are multiple factors that come into play regarding storage/cellar conditions that will either age wine well, or ruin it quickly.

A huge misconception I’ve come across in speaking with friends and family about wine is that it ALL gets better with age.  This is definitely not true!  There is a saying in the wine world that only 1% of wine is actually meant to be aged in the bottle, which means that 99% of the wine on the shelves right now is meant to be consumed within a few short years from now, or today!  More on specific aging times in a moment. I’ll tell you right now, that 1% more than likely didn’t cost less than $20 either, so if you’re hanging on to those $7.99 bottles, it’s time to grab some glasses, or possibly make dinner with some type of a wine sauce!

Wine needs to have certain qualities to give it the ability to age well.  Madeline Puckette, the creator of Wine Folly, gives 4 qualities that you can look for in a wine to determine if it is age worthy:  Acidity, Tannins, Alcohol Level, and Residual Sugar.  [1]

Acidity

The higher the acid in the wine, the better it will age.  When tasting wine, acidity is the factor that makes your mouth water.  It is often described as “crispness.”  Chablis, for example, has a high amount of acidity, and can age well, even though it’s made from white grapes. (Tip your chin down with the wine in your mouth and see how much spit forms. If there’s a lot, it’s higher in acid!)

Tannins

Lots of red grapes have high tannins and can be aged for several years.  Sometimes whites have tannins, but rarely.  Tannins are chemical compounds that come from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes.  When you taste them in wine, they’re not so much a flavour as a feeling.  (That dry feeling you get along your gums, like when you drink a way over-steeped tea, is the feeling of tannins!) In the process of making red wine, the grape juice sits with these parts of the grape, allowing the tannins to enter the wine.  Some can come from oak contact as well.  Certain grapes are more tannic than others, depending on their composition, and certain wines will be more tannic if they’re left to sit with the skins, etc. for longer periods of time.  These tannins can be bitter and harsh in young wines, but they help them age well because with time, the tannins “soften,” and become more “well-rounded.”  This basically means that instead of the wine tasting sharp and pungent in your mouth, it will taste more smooth and balanced; higher tannin wines need age to taste better.

Alcohol Level and Residual Sugar

Red wines with higher alcohol content, closer to the 14% mark, will typically age better than lower alcohol reds.  Whites have lower alcohol in them, but some grapes have particular compounds and sugar levels that will allow for a decent amount of residual, that is, left-over sugar, once the fermentation process is done.  These whites, like Rieslings, for example, have a balance of sugar and acid that enables them to age well.

So now that you’ve determined you’ve got a wine you’re going to hold on to, here are some things to think about before you put it away and forget about it.

Screwcap vs. Synthetic Cork vs. Real Cork  

The method of capping wines is still a largely debated topic in the wine industry.  Real cork, vs. synthetic cork, vs. screwcap – there are a lot of opinions out there on which is best and why.  For more information on this topic, check out my article Real Cork vs. Synthetic Cork and Screwcaps. For the purposes of this article, I’ll only comment related to wine’s age-ability and storage.

Australia and New Zealand initiated the use of screw caps, and still use them on many of their wines.  Other countries have started following suit.  A screw cap does not indicate poor quality wine, it’s simply a method that some producers believe is the best way to seal their wines.  Wines with screw caps don’t need to be laying down for storage, but they can be. Screw caps haven’t been tested for super long term aging, but some can last a decade or more.

Wine professionals have recommended to me, on more than one occasion, that synthetic cork should not be left in contact with the wine for long periods of time; they say it can leave a plastic type taste in the wine, and can also leave other synthesized compounds in the wine, that they don’t want to be consuming several years down the line.  Stand those synthetic cork wines up for any length of storage.  Fair enough. These are also only guaranteed for a few years at best.

Wine with a real cork must be stored lying down.  Cork is a natural compound, and it dries out over time.  By lying the wine on its side, the wine stays touching the bottom of the cork, and the moisture helps to keep the cork damp enough that it shouldn’t dry out.  This is important, because if the cork dries out, it shrivels up and shrinks, letting too much unwanted air into the bottle.  Over the years, the overdose of oxygen will ruin the wine, leaving it “oxidized” and undesirable. Natural cork has proven the test of time and has lasted sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cellar Conditions

Have you ever been to a winery, or seen photos of their cellars?  What do you notice about them?  They’re usually cool, dark, and damp, and the wine is off to the side and out of the way so it doesn’t have to be moved.

Cellar conditions for ideal wine storage should be between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, and shouldn’t change much.  Light shining onto the bottles for some time can alter the wine inside, whether it’s natural or artificial light.  Humidity will help keep the corks damp, so they stay plump and tightly sealed to the inside of the bottle’s neck.  The more you can leave the wine alone, without bumping it and moving it, the better its chances are of aging well.

When wine is resting well, it’s aging well, similar to you!  Just think of how well you would rest if someone kept changing the temperature on you, shining light on you, and bumping you around – exactly.  This is why I can’t sleep on an airplane. If you want your wine to be pleasant, give it a good rest!

Did you know that storing wine in a kitchen is actually one of the worst places in a home environment to keep it?  The temperature fluctuates the most in kitchens/bathrooms out of any of the rooms in your home.

How Long is Too Long?

There is a window of time that most wine professionals believe wine is at its best.  The window will vary slightly for each wine, but at a certain point, it will hit its peak, and begin to decline in quality again.  There is no exact way to know when this is, so it can feel like a risk when you’ve been aging a wine for a while, and want to make sure it’s at its best before popping that old cork ever so gently!

So many great wines become collector’s items, and people spend so much money on them, that they never want to drink them.  I once heard someone on a wine documentary say something to the effect of how many of the world’s greatest wines have essentially gone to waste, sitting in someone’s cellar for way too long, because people don’t understand how wine ages.  There’s a time and place for cellaring wine, but in the end, wine is meant to be drunk.

Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favourite wine books.  She says, “contrary to popular opinion, only a small subgroup of wines benefit from extended bottle aging.  The great bulk of wine sold today, red as well as white and pink, is designed to be drunk within a year, or at most two, of bottling.”[2]

In her expert opinion, she goes on to list specific numbers of years that several particular types of wine should be aged for, of which I’ve only included a few popular choices.  Almost all whites retailing under the $20 range should only be bottle aged to a maximum of 2 years.  Heavier whites, like Chardonnay can sometimes last up to 6 years.  More expensive whites can age longer, like Chablis (up to 15 years), or some Rieslings (up to 20).[3]  This has to do with the structure of the particular grapes, and how they’re produced.

Surprisingly, the number doesn’t differ much for reds.  If they’re around that same $20 mark or under, the longest Jancis recommends you keep them is 3 years.  You can hang onto higher priced French wines in your cellar from 15 to 25 years, Italian Chianti or Spanish Rioja can present nicely up to 10 and 20 respectively as well.  Above the $20 price point, most Cabernet Sauvignons can be bottle aged for 7 – 17 years, Pinot Noirs, 4 – 10, Shiraz, 4 – 12, and Grenache, 3 – 8. [4]  Jancis has not lead me astray yet, and I trust these numbers; keep in mind there are always exceptions, and your cellar conditions need to be appropriate, especially if you’re considering aging your own wines in the bottles.

*Note that keeping value wines up to that 2-3 year mark is NOT going to enhance their flavour; think of that time frame like a best before date.

To determine how long the wine has been in the bottle, you’re going to have to do some math!  The year on the label is the year the grapes were harvested, not the year it was bottled necessarily, so if the label explains that it was aged in the winery for a certain number of years, you can add that time to the year on the label to get the bottling year.

If you’re looking to age a wine, remember to look for wines that are balanced in acidity, alcohol, residual sugar, or have some tannin to them.  You’ll want to spend a bit more on these ones, and watch out for synthetic cork. If you’ve got a lot of $20 to $30 wines sitting in your house, it may be time to have a party!  Let’s not let that wine go to waste.  Happy aging of the appropriate ones, and cheers to all the rest of them!

[1] Puckette, Madeline.  (2017, Feb.)  “How to Tell If A Wine Is Age-Worthy.”  Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/tutorial/how-to-tell-if-a-wine-is-age-worthy/

[2] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[3] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[4] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned; Value Wines to Please Your Palate

Many of us enjoy wine for a variety of occasions.  Sometimes, we want that special, expensive bottle, to celebrate a milestone or achievement, but sometimes, we just want a glass of red on the sofa while we read a great book, or a cool crisp white on the patio on a summer weeknight.  Although these occasions are special in their own right, not all of us can afford to be cracking $50 bottles three times a week!  Lots of us have also tried that $8 wine that looked oh-so-good in the packaging, with the fancy bottle shape and funky label, only to be let down by its lack-lustre or overbearing, unbalanced taste.  Can we say “cooking wine”?

I used to wonder if it was even possible to spend less, and get more in a wine.  The great news is, yes it is!  You just have to know a few things.  I realize that the $10 – $25 price range is the largest market for wine consumers, and I want to help you find wines you love for that price!

I gathered some friends together to help me give you the best information I can, and added our tips too. Specific wines are bolded throughout to make them easier to spot!

If you’re looking for even more specifics, a sommelier friend put together a list organized by price, specifically for you, my readers!  Check out the list at the bottom.


The WSET Grad List

Ivy and Aaron are certified in WSET Level 2, just like us.  They’re frequent hosts of wine tastings in their home, because they love sharing their passion for wine with their friends.  They’re on a quest to try 100 grape varietals, and have reached the final stretches in that goal.  They have an entire book shelf full of wine books (of which I’ve only yet borrowed one) and are pursuing further education in the wine industry.

“There are a few strategies that I use when purchasing value wines. Depending on what type or style I am looking for will determine which countries I will look for wines in. I love Riesling and in the Germany section you can get Rieslings under $20 that are a great value. If I am looking for a fruity and accessible red my go to is Beaujolais which is found in the French section. Beaujolais wines are the Gamay grape and one of my go to wine varieties under $25.” – Ivy

“When looking for value be sure to look at South America. Chilean Pinot Noir and Argentinan Cab Sav’s and Malbec’s. You can find inexpensive quality wines.” – Aaron

Great tips! They also include a category that I often don’t shop in because I don’t digest it well; however it’s widely liked, extremely popular and important to mention here – Sparkling Wine.

“One of my favourite tips for value is bubbly wines! I love my Champagne but don’t always love the price. Cava, which is from Spain, is made in the same style as Champagne but without the price tag. You can find lovely Cava under $25.” – Ivy


We met Sandra and Ian while they worked in the higher-ups of a restaurant we frequented.  Over wine, we discovered we had more in common than we realized, and became friends.  They’ve got ISG and WSET certificates between them, and Sandra has years of experience in high end service. Ian is the bar manager, and wine/spirits buyer, at one of our city’s most trendy, award winning restaurants, recognized as a top restaurant in Canada.  (He also designs hundreds of spectacular, award winning cocktails!)

Ian walked us through how he designs wine lists for his restaurants. His goal is to find wines that will pair with the menu, cover main regions and the grape varietals they do well, and be of value to sell to patrons, for example, Pinot Noir from Oregon, or Argentinian Malbec.

He also frequents industry wine tasting events and tries new bottles that reps bring to him on the regular, so he shows the value in trying new wines and producers.

He spoke highly of South African wines for value, while still being interesting to the palate, (look for KWV on the label for higher labour standards in South Africa), as well as one other particularly interesting grape, and left me with this hilarious, but true quote.

“Look for a good Petit Syrah; you’re going to enjoy the shiz out of that!” – Ian

Sandra’s value go to is the Santos de Casa Reserva Alentejano, retailing for $27.  They’ve shared this with us before – delicious.

“I love a well paired bottle of wine, but sometimes you get home from work and you just need to unwind and have a glass of something and you don’t want to plan your meal or think too hard.  This is the perfect go to for those occasions.  It is smooth and neither too dry or too sweet and will appeal to the seasoned wine drinker and the person just getting into wine alike.”  – Sandra


Ken

We were privileged to take our WSET Level 2 from this knowledgeable and intelligent man, who is well certified himself, and always continuing his wine education.  He is currently researching and presenting on Biodynamic Wines in his free time, and is a University Professor by day.  When I asked him for some tips for you, my readers, he shared some extremely valid points.

“It’s hard to say what a ‘good wine’ is for someone, so the answer for me is to drink more, and try everything!” – Ken

 That is very well said.  The wines my friends and I are presenting to you in this article are great to us, but may not be great for you.  These are meant to be a starting point in your exploring.  I must also note, that a ‘good wine’ to me 10 years ago, is not a ‘good wine’ to me now, because I’ve done more learning and exploring; tastes change, so try to hold an open mind and be discovery oriented.  Don’t they say we should enjoy the journey, as well as the destination?

“One approach is to look for lesser known regions that are close to the ‘famous’ regions, for example, rather than Chateauneuf-du-Pape, try something from Gigondas, which is close, similar, lesser known, and provides a good value.

Another approach is to look for ‘lesser’ sub-appellations within regions, so for example, if a person likes Chablis, Petit Chablis, rather than Premier Cru Chablis.  This doesn’t necessarily mean poorer quality, just different aging.  The longer it’s aged, the more money the producer has tied up in it, the more they need to charge for the wine.” – Ken

He does realize that some of his suggestions require some background knowledge, but encourages readers to have fun exploring and experimenting.  Plus, if you’re reading this, and have a more specific question about either of Ken’s approaches, you can leave a comment and I can help direct you.


Dawn

Dawn is certified in ISG and WSET Level 3, and runs the Tasting Room at our Coop Liquor. She is hilarious, kind, hospitable, a great chef, and extremely experienced and knowledgeable. That’s why the owners of Coop have put her in charge of choosing and buying every single bottle of wine that comes into that store! She works with wine producers all over the world, and here are her go to’s.

1.   “Bodegas Laya from Spain . It’s a big, full bodied red that over delivers for the price.

2.   La Vieille Ferme Rosé from France.  It is not as dry as some of the rosés from Provence, but it is very well made and always quaffable.  It is perfect on a summer patio day.” – Dawn


Our Tips to Affordable, Yet Still Great Wine

 1. Find an affordable producer that you like.  Chances are, if you really enjoyed one particular wine of theirs, you might also enjoy their other wines.

2. Shop lesser known varietals. You can find amazing value wine if you’re willing to step outside the Cab Sauv and Chardonnay boxes.

3. Avoid the mass production wines!  These are the ultra-cheap, big name companies, that I won’t name, but you’ve heard of them.  If they’re mass produced, they’re going to be a value, yes, but also boring and predictably not great. Look on the label for hints that they’re mass produced, like the non-specific region of “California,” for example, rather than “Monterey County.”

4. Shop in the European sections.  Many of the most overpriced wines come from the USA.  Canadian producers have high operating costs and small production, so they have to charge more.  You can get really great wine, for under $20 from Europe.  Our faves are almost anything from Italy or France, Riesling from Germany, Duoro from Portugal, Rioja from Spain.  In the Italy section, if they have a ribbon around the neck that’s a blue/gray and says DOCG or DOC on it, you know you’re getting a quality controlled wine, and yes, they have these for under $20.

5. Shop in the South American sections!  Carmenere from Chile and Malbec from Argentina, are great.  It’s also worth trying the whites from these regions. Last week we had an Eco Chilean Chardonnay that was superb, and $13.

6. Be willing to take a risk!  We had a Boutari from Greece last month that was $18.  We were in Greece in 2015, and no wine grabbed us as “the best wine ever,” but we decided to give the Boutari a go (open-mind!).  It was wonderfully crisp, with lemon and fresh herb notes to it that reminded me of being in Greece.  You don’t know if you don’t try.

7. Keep a list of what you’ve tried, and write down what you like or don’t like.  Have your “go to’s” for value white, red, sparkling or rose. I use the Vivino app to keep a running tally, and when I have time, I add my tasting notes.


A Sommeliers List – Available at the Coop Wine Spirits Beer store in Blairemore

Angela is the sommelier at the Coop Liquor Store and Tasting Room, she is certified in WSET Level 3, and is currently taking her two year Level 4 Diploma.  She sent me a list of her favourite value wines, all available at our Coop Liquor Store!  Upon getting to know her, I’ve discovered she’s passionate about interesting wines and discovering new, quality wines for herself and her customers.  She’s not going to set you up with something run of the mill or boring, which I really appreciate about her, especially because she fills my wine locker every month!  I’ve personally had all of the Under $15 wines, and they’re fabulous.  I would also mention that any wine by La Vieille Ferme I’ve had has been affordable and tasty.  Check out her list below.  What do you notice about it?

Under $15

• Plantaze Vranac $13.99

• Claude Val Rouge and Rosé $12.99

• La Vieille Ferme Red $13.99

Under $20

• Gerard Bertrand Corbieres $17.99

• Henry of Pelham Baco Noir $15.49

• Glenelly Glass Collection Chardonnay $18.99

• Mediterra Poggio Al Tesoro $19.99

Under $25ish

• Ricossa Barbaresco $22.99

• Gray Monk White Brut Odyssey $25.99

• Chateau Pesquie Les Terraces $22.99

There may be a lot of grape varietals that you haven’t heard of before.  Just because they’re not mainstream doesn’t mean they’re not flavourful, or a good value.  A lot of them are also international.  Hmm… I think I read that somewhere.

Remember, take a risk.  You might not like all of these wines, but you might also love them.  Now get to the store, find a value wine, and start popping corks, (or unscrewing screwcaps)!

A special thanks to all of my guests: Ivy, Aaron, Sandra, Ian, Ken, Dawn and Angela.  You’re all wonderful for taking the time to contribute and I appreciate you!

Cheers!