WINE IS ALIVE!
*Wine as a living entity
Wine should be treated as a living thing.
It is an organic, agricultural product that reacts to native yeasts, oxygen, temperature, wood, and many additional factors. Once in barrel, the wine is tinkered with to pull out the desired flavors, weight, tannin, and so on to achieve deliciousness and balance. As the wine hangs out in barrel, it changes constantly and absorbs new characteristics from the influences of its environment, including the barrel, humidity, temperature swings and such. New or old wood, American, French, or Hungarian wood, steel or concrete…the vessel impacts a wine. The winemaker will decide when to pull the wine from the barrel and bottle it…which also affects flavor, style, and complexity.
Geez, so complicated...
Generally, wine is considered a finished product when bottled. However, many wines will evolve in the bottle also. Defects may become more prevalent, the bottling line could be contaminated with bacteria or brettanomyces and smell like a dirty barnyard, the cork may fail and let O2 react with the wine to become oxidized, or the cork may leak TCA and ‘cork’ the wine…but, ideally, the wine will benefit from aging in the bottle as it matures, develops, and become more complex. Sometimes a wine will fluctuate in taste depending on when you open it…it may taste poorly when it goes to ‘sleep’ for a while or ‘shuts down.’ Or, it may have a build up of sulfur fumes upon opening that eventually blow off. Or, you may have opened at its very moment of greatness! Each wine has a rhythm that we just hope to harmonize with.
And, you may have read about predictions of when to drink a bottle; basically an expert has evaluated the vintage, the producer, and the quality of the wine to determine when it should be ‘ready’ and when it will ‘peak.’ This is a good guide, but each bottle will change individually over time. All we can do is make an educated guess and pop the cork. Or buy multiple bottles and open them over an extended amount of time…every few months, or every year.
However, not every wine is made to be aged. While collectors search for wine and invest in it to age over time in a very controlled, chilly, still, and humid environment, most wine drinkers buy a bottle and pop the cork within a week, if not within the first 10 minutes. Thus, winemakers have adjusted their product to please the customers that drink wine with little age on it or wine that is just released. Some wines are light and easy and meant to be consumed immediately. But, some wines are made on the premise that they will be barrel aged, conditioned in bottle, released, and then put down for some time before ever being opened. There are wines made from the Tannat grape in Southern France that really are not ready to enjoy until at least 10, even 20 years after they are crafted. YOU should decide if you prefer young wine, old wine, oak aged or naked wine…wine that is meant for aging or for immediate drinking. OR, you can drink it all.
Just consider wine as an evolving creature that is sensitive to its environment. Extremes in temperature may damage a bottle. Excessive movement or disturbance can ‘bruise’ it. A bad cork can ‘cork’ it. Wine is fragile. Wine is also incredibly adept at bouncing back from mistreatment, too. As a wine enthusiast, learn how to care for your wine…as an investment, and as an edible delight. Learn how to recognize a flawed bottle. TASTE corked wine. TASTE oxidized wine. Remember those sensations and flavors and recall them as needed. Keep these factors in mind when you buy a bottle or a case…
A few tips…
*Wine stored in the fridge is constantly vibrating and extremely cold. Wine doesn’t like either of these things, and will age more quickly stored here for extended periods of time. We suggest chilling wine as needed in a flash chiller or for an hour before guests arrive…or, at this time of year, plopping it outside for half an hour.
*Wine stored on top of the fridge also vibrates. But, worse yet, often is too warm due to the rising heat of the kitchen as well as the continually heat put off from the fridge running.
*Wine store about the stove in a conveniently built in wine-rack. BOO.
These observations are meant to be a guideline and not the wine bible. So, please play with your wine…experiment and invest in a bottle or two before stashing an intense collection. But, do keep tasting and drinking and sharing!
UPDATE: Jane scrounged up this great link to Andrew’s ruminations on aging…much more technical and in-depth about chemical reactions and tasting notes for PEAY Syrah…check it out! http://peayvineyards.com/article_andy_aging.shtml#syrah.