In the many years that I have worked in the wine industry, I have come across many preferences regarding wine ageing and assumptions! First South African wine drinkers wanted older vintages – they had heard that older wines were better, and now they want the latest vintage, 2014 wine in the year 2014! So when do we actually drink our wines and when do we store them?
To answer this question it helps to understand which constituent elements of wine help the ageing process, namely: acidity, alcohol, tannin and residual sugar. These elements are what a professional or connoisseur will look for when reasoning whether to age or drink a wine immediately.
Think of acidity as the stamina of a marathon runner. Over time, a wine loses its acidity just like the runner losing stamina while running a marathon, a wine with higher acidity will tend to “run” or last longer.
We need to separate dry wines, 5g of residual sugar or below, from sweeter wines, as in sherries, dessert wines and ports. Alcohol makes us feel happy but by also being volatile, may turn the wine into vinegar. A dry wine with lower alcohol will tend to age better – white or red! On the other hand fortified wines with higher alcohol and residual sugar are the best agers as these are not dry wines.
When you drink black tea, the dry stringy proteins you feel over your tongue are the tannins. In wine, the tannins are extracted from the grape skins (and pips) and barrels if the wine was wood matured. Tannins are the structural proteins of plants and thus give structure to the wine. It is logical to deduce that the more tannins or structure a wine has, the longer its ageing ability.
Sweeter wines with higher residual sugar will age better, but only with balanced acidity. Think of ports and sherries.
A great wine that may be enjoyed now or further aged is the Mount Sutherland Syrah 2011 from Super Single Vineyards. Buy it and write notes when you first taste it and then at each yearly interval that you taste it again. This will give you a practical experience of the ageing of wine.