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How Does Ageing Affect The Taste, Aroma And Texture Of Wine?

When choosing a bottle of wine, connoisseurs will pay attention to the vintage of the wine. This is because some wines taste better when they are fresh and young, and others benefit from the ageing process. Here’s a look at the difference that time makes to the taste and texture of wine.

The benefits of ageing wine have been known since the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans, even if the science behind the process was not fully understood. The reason that some wines taste better with age is down to a chemical reaction that affects the flavour and aroma of the wine.

The key actor in this process is a group of phenolic compounds called tannins, which are found in the stems, seeds and skins of the grape. Because red wine is fermented with the grape skins on, it has a much higher volume of tannins than white wine. This gives the wine an astringent and bitter flavour and adds to the texture and complexity of the wine.

Over time, the tannins soften and give red wine its characteristic velvety texture, and the astringency mellows out to give a pleasing rich and smooth taste. The secondary and tertiary flavours of the wine may become more apparent, such as luxuriant coffee or chocolatey notes, and more earthy notes of tobacco, leather, or spice. 

White wines age in a different way to reds, primarily because of the lower tannin content, which can make them sweeter or more acidic. Tannins also have natural preservative qualities, which is why it is more common to find aged reds rather than whites. In fact, a premium quality red that has been aged in the right conditions can last for 40 years or more.

Having said that, the more acidic white wines can also age well, as the balance of sugars alters over time and the harshness of the acidity is softened and rounded out. The overall flavours can harmonise to produce a pleasing balance of primary and secondary and tertiary notes, making the wine more full-bodied and satisfying to the palate.

Sweeter whites with fresh fruity or floral flavours often do not benefit so much from the ageing process, and are best enjoyed when they are young and vibrant. 

The way that the wine is aged will also have a bearing on the overall taste and texture. For best results, wine needs to be aged with carefully controlled levels of humidity, temperature and light exposure. If the conditions are too dry, the cork can crumble and allow oxygen into the bottle, spoiling the flavour of the wine.

If the conditions are too warm and humid, mould may grow in the cork, rendering the wine unsafe and unpalatable. Sometimes, how well a bottle matures may just be a matter of serendipity, and well-aged wine is both a matter of art and science.

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