When one examines a wine to assess its aging potential one
is looking for the presence of either “fuel” for the aging process
(fruit and tannin) or preservatives against the aging process (alcohol and acid).
As wines age chemical processes occurring within the wine cause the tannin
in a red wine to soften and actually fall out of solution as sediment. Simultaneously
the fruit flavors and accompanying body of a wine begin to diminish over time.
A wine high in tannin with a strong core of fruit intensity and body will have
the ability to age significantly longer than one with little tannin and lighter
While I consider tannin a “fuel” for the aging process, one should
also recognize that it is also a natural preservative against oxidation. I consider
both acid and alcohol a preservative as well. High alcohol acts to stave off the
processes associated with oxidation, hence the reason why wines were previously
fortified for long journeys back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Acid too can act as a preservative, although like tannin, the ability of acid
to aid in the aging of wine is due largely to the amount of balancing fruit in
the wine. This is especially true for white wines that have little to no tannin
present. Wines high in acid but also possessing a strong core of fruit are excellent
candidates for aging. Over time as the fruit begins to fade, the acid will act
to maintain the structure of the wine allowing the wine to age more gracefully.
Be careful, though, because acid does not dissipate in the same way that tannin
does, which means that even greater fruitiness is needed to “balance”
the effects of the higher acidity. Sweetness also helps to balance acidity.
The keys to examining the taste clues that create a wine’s aging potential
are balance and concentration. The four clues: alcohol, acid, fruit and (in red
wines) tannin must be balanced and in such concentration to “hold up”
to the dissipating processes attributable to aging. Harmonious balance, depth
and intensity are all hallmarks of wines with great aging potential.
Clues and Aging Potential >