Many people tend to assume that wine that has been aged is better than a young wine. But aging a wine will not automatically make it into a better wine. Not all wine is meant to be aged, with much of the wine that is produced designed to be drunk and enjoyed as a young wine. Storing these wines for extended periods will not improve them, rather they will lose their freshness and fruit and often become soft and flabby.
Wines that are capable of aging in a cellar have been deliberately built to do this. For a winemaker to produce a wine that can be aged, the first decision is to choose a grape variety that is capable of aging like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Chardonnay. Yields in the vineyard are kept very low and the fruit is carefully selected, with often only the best rows of vines included. Even then a good vintage is required – a year when everything is right to get the berries to an ideal level of ripeness with excellent balance. Making a wine that is capable of aging also relies heavily on the skill of the viticulturist and the winemaker.
Young wines that are made for aging are usually quite big and rich when young with lots of fruit, acid and tannins. These features are termed primary fruit characters and they come from the grapes themselves. Young wines also contain secondary characters that become part of the wine during the wine making progress – aging the wine in an oak barrel to impart complexity to the wine is among the most common.
However as a wine evolves over time it will undergo a number of changes, and this is what makes wine so intriguing. The primary fruit character will soften and change with the big fruity elements being replaced by more gentle and complex tertiary characters. The tannins will also soften over time and become less aggressive and less obvious, with the whole wine becoming softer and integrated with a much more complex personality.
The conclusion is to drink your wine at the age that you enjoy it – if a young, vibrant wine chock full of fruit, oak and flavour is your thing, then drink it young. If you prefer the more complex, nuanced flavours of an aged wine to accompany a meal then an older wine may suit you better.
If you would like to try an aged Balgownie Estate Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon why not head to the Cellar Door in the Yarra Valley where the staff would be happy to show you these magnificent wines. Alternatively Rae's Restaurant is offering Wine Flights - taste three vintages of either Estate Shiraz or Estate Cabernet Cabernet Sauvignon, the current release wine plus two aged wines for $33.