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There is little one can say positively about aging (except for the option to retire). However, when we come to wine (or cheeses), aging is often viewed as a desirable attribute, the potential for which aficionados can be willing to pay exorbitant sums. When I taught courses, people would often ask how long they should age their wines. What a loaded question. Half facetiously my response was: “How long do you expect to live? If long, it is probably safe to age your best wines at cool temperatures for ten to twenty years. If in doubt, forget expensive red wines, and enjoy more reasonably priced wines produced to be consumed upon purchase, or in a few years, and store at room temperature.”
Usually this was not what they wanted to hear, but had more validity than the prognostications of most wine pundits. There are no sure-fire indicators of aging potential. Experience with particular producers one has come to trust and appreciate is probably the best guide, but of little use to the neophyte. Vintage rankings are too general, price a poor indicator (of anything other than price), and repute is often unfounded or highly overrated. Even the weight of the bottle or cork length have been suggested as signs of aging potential. The problem is that astute producers can employ these, and exalted price, to imply greatness, that may be unwarranted.
This leads to the question: is the hype about aging potential worth all the ink spilt on the topic? A moot point, and one science cannot answer. It depends on consumer preferences, ability to age wine under optimal conditions, and the depth of one’s pocket book. Young wines (of good quality) are characterized by being full of floral/fruity to jammy flavors, marked varietal aromas (if characteristic of the grape varieties used), possess a harmonious mouth-feel, and generate savory delight. They also tend to be more reasonable priced, readily available, and require little to no patience (storage) before consumption with pleasure. Not much there to dislike. In contrast, wine benefitting from (requiring) prolonged aging usually have little fragrance when young (too bound to nonvolatile wine constituents), often highly astringent (sufficient tannins to protect the wine from undue oxidative flavor degradation during long storage), and expensive. Thus, the need for much patience, excellent storage facilities, and ample funds.
With all these negatives, what are the positives that could induce people to purchase such wines? Ideally, the wine slowly “opens up” (to express a luscious varietal aroma and eventually a unique set of fragrances found only in well-aged wines). Also the wine “mellows” and the tannins no longer exert a dry, dust-in-the-mouth, tooth-coating sensation. The desired fragrance of fully matured, older wines is frequently described as possessing truffle, soya sauce, cigar-box, and leather-like attributes. Although these descriptors may seem less than appealing, believe me, they can be rapturous. They had better be, for all the waiting and price typically involved, if intrinsic sensory attributes are the goal. Regrettably, extrinsic factors play a more significant role in the desirability of aged wines: providing a feeling of exclusivity and pride in the ownership of something rare, and considered precious by like-minded aficionados.
Regrettably, some individuals view wine like art, as a financial investment, to be sold at a later date for profit. Wine should be viewed as an artisanal agricultural product, not a status symbol. Wine is a beverage to be savored for what it is: a liquid potentially possessing a kaleidoscope of sensory delights for anyone willing to take the effort to look. Yes, these sensations can be fleeting, but so is a sunset, hoarfrost on trees, or the fragrance of a rose.
About the Author
Ronald S. Jackson received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Queen’s University and the doctorate from the University of Toronto. His time in Vineland, Ontario, and subsequently at Cornell University, redirected his interest in plant disease toward viticulture and enology. As part of his regular teaching duties at Brandon University, he developed the first wine technology course in Canada. For many years, Dr. Jackson was a technical advisor to the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, developed sensory tests to assess the tasting skills of members of its Sensory Panel, and was a member of its External Tasting Panel.
Dr. Jackson has left his position as a professor and the chair of the Botany Department at Brandon University to concentrate on writing. He is allied with the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Brock University.
He is also the author of Elsevier books Wine Science: Principles and Applications, Fourth Edition, which won the prestigious OIV Award in 2015, and the forthcoming Wine Tasting: A Professional Handbook, Third Edition, due in February 2017.
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