Wine Words: Aging Potential

published Nov 26, 2012
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Aging Potential is a wine word often used when discussing higher end wines that one might hope to cellar to either enjoy at a later stage or to resell for investment purposes. The aging potential of a wine means the length of time that a wine will hold up in the bottle and be enjoyable to drink, and the aging potential of any wine is directly related to its quality.

Wines with Limited Aging Potential
Obviously, personal taste preferences do come into the equation, but the vast majority of wines produced today around the world do not have significant aging potential. They are produced to be drunk within 6-12 months max of bottling. Their trump cards are freshness and bright fruit flavor. The flavors in such simple wines fade and dissipate quite quickly and then you end up with a dull, tired wine. Wines with limited or no aging potential are usually bottled at peak and the best you can hope for is that they will ‘hold’ for a while.

Examples are box wines, Prosecco, most Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Asti, most Rosé, as well as most entry level/mid market branded wines.

Wines with Significant Aging Potential
In contrast, wines that have a good aging potential are wines which get better in the bottle. They continue to evolve, developing additional complexity, mouth feel and flavor. Wines with significant aging potential are often bottled before they are really ready to drink and need that extra 3-10 years to structurally integrate and open up in order to be enjoyed.

Examples include the higher wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley, Alsace and Champagne; Rioja, Priorat and Ribera del Duero; Tuscany and the Barolo and Barbaresco wines of Piedmont; Madeira and vintage Port, as well as certain higher end Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Syrah wines of the New World.

Factors that Influence the Aging Potential of a Wine
Intrinsic factors include the grape variety/varieties, vineyard, climate, vintage, vine age, vine yield, ripeness as well as winemaking practices (vinification and barrel ageing). Key aspects of the grape itself include extract, phenolics (i.e. tannin), acidity, sugars and pH. And once the wine is made, the overall balance of its structural and flavor components also impact the potential.

Extrinsic factors such as packaging – both the container (i.e. glass bottle, plastic, bag-in-box etc) and the type of closure – have an influence on the wine’s aging potential.

Storage conditions have a huge impact, too. A wine may have great aging potential that is ruined by poor storage conditions. Appropriate temperature, light, humidity and vibration conditions are critical for storing and enabling a wine to achieve its aging potential .

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.

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