Italian wines taste better when aged.
It’s advice that you will hear almost everywhere. And in many cases, it’s true. The ageing process allows many wines to develop beyond what they initially present when bottled. For some wines, ageing releases more complex flavours and expands upon the key notes that make up the drink’s flavour profile.
But here’s the problem.
Some wines do not get better with age.
In fact, some of your Italian wines are best consumed as young as possible. Ageing those wines causes them to lose many of their best properties.
So, you’re faced with a question.
Why do some Italian wines get better with age, whereas others are best consumed young?
In this article, we aim to answer that question by helping you learn about the ageing process and where it best applies.
Tannins – The Key to the Ageing Question
Many wine experts agree that tannins are the most important aspect of the wine ageing process.
So, what are they?
Tannins are groups of molecules that come from the seeds, skins, and stems of the grapes used to make your Italian wine. Of course, all of those things have to be used in the winemaking process for it to take on a tannic property. Generally speaking, red wines are far more tannic than white wines because the white wine process involves the removal of seeds, skins, and stems during fermentation.
Even so, tannins are present in all wines. After all, even a white wine has to have some exposure to the extra parts of the grape beyond the juice thanks to the growing process.
Tannins play a role in the ageing process because they affect a wine’s aroma.
They don’t contribute to the smell directly. Tannins themselves don’t really smell of anything. However, tannins do react with the alcohol and acid present in a bottle of wine.
This affects the wine’s aroma as it ages.
Young wines tend to have strong floral and fruity aromas. That’s natural since grapes are both fruits and plant products. As a wine ages, tannins help to suppress these dominant floral and fruity notes, allowing for more complex aromas to develop. This process is aided by the minute amounts of oxygen that get into a bottle of wine through its cork or cap. This tiny amount of oxygen speeds up the chemical transformations that occur during ageing.
Incidentally, it’s these reactions between oxygen and tannins that you’re looking to encourage when you decant a bottle of wine. Decanting only lasts a short period because it allows large amounts of oxygen to get into the wine, leading to rapid chemical transformation.
Tannic Wines Are Best for Ageing
As mentioned, white wines, along with many Rosé wines, are not tannic. Red wines typically are. The volume of tannins in a wine is determined by the producer. But as a general rule of thumb, the more tannic the wine, the more it benefits from ageing.
Why is that?
Beyond the effect that tannins have on aroma, you also have to consider the taste of the tannins themselves.
Tannins contribute to the bitter aftertaste that some wines have when they’re drunk while they’re too young. This bitterness combines with the tannins binding to the proteins in both the wine and your mouth. When this happens, your saliva becomes less slimy than it is supposed to, leaving your mouth feeling dry.
If you’ve ever consumed a wine and felt like you had a chalky aftertaste in your mouth, that’s a clear sign that the wine needed to be aged a little before you drank it.
Think of it as the same as eating a green banana. The fruit isn’t ripe yet, meaning you lose a lot of the flavour. Instead, the banana has a bitterness that almost makes you feel like you’re eating a plant instead of enjoying a piece of fruit that is supposed to have a sweet flavour.
It’s the same concept with grapes and tannins.
Not giving the tannins enough time to mellow as they react with the alcohol in your wine creates a bitter taste that may fool you into thinking that the wine isn’t any good.
When Shouldn’t You Age an Italian Wine?
So, we know that the presence of high volumes of tannins indicates that a wine benefits from ageing. Of course, this also means that wines that do not have high tannic volume are better consumed when young.
But there are a few other signs that suggest a wine is best enjoyed almost as soon as you’ve bought it.
First, consider the price.
While this is not a hard and fast rule, most wines that cost €20 or below are likely best consumed when they’re young. This doesn’t mean the wine is bad. It just means it doesn’t have the ageing potential of more expensive wines.
Second, colour is key.
White wines are almost always best consumed seasonally. In other words, they’re intended to be drunk when you bought them. Buying a bottle of white wine and leaving it until next year almost always results in the wine losing some of the freshness and acidity it’s supposed to have. After all, you’re looking for fruitiness and acidity from these types of wines. Tannins suppress both, which results in older white wines losing their lustre.
Finally, the grape makes a difference when ageing reds.
Some grapes are more tannic than others. These tannin levels determine whether the wine can be aged or if it needs to be consumed early. Often, you can research the wine and its grape to discover its ageing potential.
Make the Job Easy on Yourself
With the information in this article, you have a general guide to ageing wine.
But why make things hard on yourself.
At Xtrawine, we maintain a staggering collection of Italian wines, as well as wines from all around the world. Each of our wine profiles indicates the drink’s ageing potential, meaning you know straight away whether your wine needs to be aged or if you should open it as soon as you buy it.
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