Many wine enthusiasts maintain well-stocked cellars and a good proportion of them have a major problem. They cannot believe that some of their “lovingly “ purchased and aged wines have departed – not only over the hill, but are simply “dead “.
How does a wine die, you ask? Wines have a life cycle. They are made (born), they age (mature), reach their peak, and die (turn mahogany in colour, brackish, dull in appearance, acquiring an oily texture, giving off unpleasant off-putting odours.
In the case of white wines, the colour turns amber sometimes brown).
When a wine is “dead “ it offers you no pleasure, instead it turns you off. It is difficult to admit that the wine for which you paid hard-earned money and cellared for many years has just become valueless, but it is better to discard it, than force you to drink.
Many wine enthusiasts purchase several bottles of a wine they sample, anticipating full maturity in a few years. This anticipated date is recorded and the wine tasted to determine its stage of evolution. If it has peaked then the wine can be enjoyed in quick succession, if not you can guess again and continue cellaring. Immature red wines can still be enjoyed, particularly if accompanied by fatty roasts, but one that is hopelessly over the hill cannot.
Often, wine enthusiasts believe the longer you age a wine, the better it gets. This is simply not the case. Generally, white wines age less well than red wines. But more importantly the vintage and how the wine was made play crucial roles. A good vintage yields healthy, ripe grapes with adequate acidity, glucose and deep red colour. Overripe grapes do not qualify.
The winemaker can decide to give the fruit a long maceration, or de-stem it fully and after the fermentation press the skins to extract additional tannins that act as preservative but also render the wine astringent. In essence winemaking is act of balance fruit quality permitting.
Barrel aging provides additional tannin and flavours, both of which contribute to longevity, texture and taste.
The size of the bottle also plays a role in the aging process. The larger the bottle, the slower becomes the aging process. Also, a cool cellar is a must with a constant temperature of 11C (53F). One of the most deleterious effects on wine is constantly, daily temperature extremes.
High-alcohol, young red wines can stand long voyages, frequently changing temperatures better than old wines that have reached their peak. Caring importers specify air-conditioned container transportation, as damage during transportation is irreversible. The extra cost is well worth the expense. The same is true for sweet, low-alcohol wines.
Wine enthusiasts who care buy their wines from reputable importers and/or merchants who make a point to transport and cellar wines properly. Once the wine is safely in your cellar, monitor its evolution and enjoy it at its peak.
Drinking fine wines before their time is called “ infanticide “, but no one wants to drink
“dead wines “.