We have all heard about aging wine, it is a long process that takes place over years and there are so many elements that all play a roll of some significance to achieve the ultimate plateau of wine maturity.
Just as oxygen yellows newspapers and browns sliced apples, it spoils wine, but the process is more complex. There is also a beneficial oxidation that helps wine mature.
Paradoxically, wine is improving even as it is being destroyed; time will kill a wine, but is also necessary to make it great. This dual process is visible after a bottle has been opened. Aeration of wine - whether by decanting a bottle, swirling one’s glass or sloshing a mouthful around - is a form of controlled oxidation. The aim is to improve the wine by helping it open up after it’s long confinement in bottle. Leave an uncorked bottle or glass out too long, exposed to air, and it will be ruined. The trick that the greatest old bottles of wine pull off is keeping long enough to blossom. The tiny amount of air in a bottle of wine, the porous cork that allows a slow exchange of oxygen over decades, the coolness of a cellar that decelerates chemical reactions in the wine, the humidity of a cellar and horizontal storage that ensure a cork stays moist and maintains a seal - all these practices are aimed at fostering beneficial changes while deterring destructive ones. A wine is considered mature when it has maximized its flavor possibilities but has not yet begun to deteriorate.
There are certain truisms about how wine ages. Big bottles are believed to age more slowly than small ones, because the ratio of oxygen to liquid is lower. Wine in cooler cellars ages slower than wine in warmer ones. More - tannic wines take longer to come around than more - supple ones.
High - alcohol, high sugar, and high acid wines - fortified wines such as Port and Sherry, sweet wines like Sauternes and Tokay, the deliberately heated Madeira, acidic wines including certain Riesling - all live longer than table wines because their strength inhibits the development of bacteria. The genius of Madeira, a sea turtle of a wine with an almost infinite lifespan is the oxidation is the goal.
With still wines, you cannot stop the undesirable process of oxidation, you can only delay it. Therefore the young bottles of wine with the greatest chance of achieving an exalted state are those with both preservatives (tannins) and potential (phenols).
Because the tannins serve as an antioxidant, once they start clumping together and falling out of the wine, this line of defense against further oxidation begins to give way. At this point a wine’s fruity character begins to disappear, and the wine is said to “lose it’s fruit.” Eventually, a wine becomes so leached of its original vitality that is called faded at best, but more likely “maderized” or something worse.
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