Wine Words: Maturity

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Maturity is a word that we often read and hear about regarding wine, but what does it mean and how do wines differ in their stages of maturity? Maturity in a wine relates to its readiness for drinking, and it varies greatly between wines. However, most wines produced today are ‘mature,’ meaning they’re ready for drinking as soon as they are bottled.

Stages of Wine Maturity

Wine maturity can be broken down into a few neat stages:

“Young or Too Young”: Some wines, such as great Bordeaux, Barolo or vintage Champagne are considered too young to enjoy when initially released. The harsh tannins of Bordeaux and Barolo need time (sometimes many years) to resolve. Flavors need time to integrate and develop complexity (often called “bottle bouquet”) before the wine becomes ready to enjoy. Similarly with great Champagne, it takes time for the different components to integrate, evolve and develop complexity. Such Champagnes can seem tight and /or closed when consumed too early.

“Ready But Can Improve”: Many wines fall into the category of being ready to drink but can either hold up for a few additional years or be of sufficient quality to actually improve with additional bottle aging.

“At Peak”: The vast majority of wines, at least in the under $10 price range, are usually at peak when released and are best consumed within nine to twelve months of release, when they still have their youthful fruity vibrancy. If not they begin to taste tired and dull.

“Over the Hill”: All wines have a limit to how long they will last. This varies depending on the initial quality of the wine, but also the particular vintage. Wines that are over the hill have lost their appeal, taste dull, fruitless and tired.

The ideal or desirable wine maturity is also somewhat subjective, depending on how you like your wine. Some wine drinkers prefer wine a little on the younger side, when it displays more youthful exuberance, while others prefer the evolved, bottle age aromas and flavors of more mature wines.

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

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