When we are enjoying a glass of wine, we invariably immerse our senses in its particular aromas, flavors, tannins and acid profiles. This is the crux of wine appreciation.
Yet while evaluating and assessing the wine at hand, we instinctively compare it to the same wine from a different vintage, or a different location within the region, or a different region. We discern the unique characteristics of a 2015 French Pinot Noir from a particular producer, as compared to one from the same producer but a previous vintage, as compared to one from a neighboring producer, or a producer beyond the next hill or a producer halfway around the globe. The same grape, grown and vinified in differing environments, may produce a unique wine.
The traits and characteristics of a wine are as much attributable to nature as they are to natural science. In the hands of a talented winemaker, that 2015 French Pinot Noir you enjoy is the result of personal choices made in the vineyard and in the winery.
Wine is a living, breathing organism, and as such, each vintage reacts to the ever-changing climactic environment in the vineyard and the direct influence of the winemaker’s application of natural and man-created processes and procedures. It is this interplay between man and nature that attracts us to one producer over another.
The evolution of wine as it ages in bottle is dependent on a number of factors. The compounds of wine interact with each other throughout its life. The effect of oxygen, tannins, acids and other elements continually change our experience of wine. Should we consume a bottle early in its development? Or let it age for several years, even decades, to provide for the ideal interaction of these basic elements?
There are a number of factors at work that will potentially influence each bottle of wine. Even as you open and pour the Nectar of the Gods, the evolution continues. Many wines improve when exposed to air; the aromas and flavors that have been tightly confined since bottling are released when they come in contact with oxygen. But most do not; they begin to deteriorate quickly.
Wine, in its most elemental form, is a fruit derivative and is perishable. It’s just a question of time before oxygen accomplishes its dastardly deed – oxidation and spoilage.
This week we’ll explore a wine’s evolution from several additional influences.
Soil and climate affect the ripening and maturation of wine in varying manners. Each has an impact on the final product. However, once bottled, the natural chemical compounds in the juice and skins of crushed and fermented grapes continue to influence the wine.
- Esters contribute to a wine’s aroma. These compounds are created during fermentation from the chemical reaction of alcohol, acid, yeast and hydrogen. For example, the concentration of esters will influence the signature aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon, in its younger years in bottle and then again as it changes in its later years. The black fruit aromas may dominate initially, but over time may dissipate and earthy aromas may come to the forefront. Ester creation and evolution may differ greatly by vintage, vineyard or producer.
- Phenolic compounds in the skins of red grapes affect the taste of wine throughout its life. They vary by grape, by fermentation method and by length of aging. One of the most influential is tannin. Simply described as imparting a bitter, mouth-puckering effect in a young wine, tannins change as they age. They combine with other tannin compounds, changing their chemical structure, losing their strength and thus creating a more supple, often silky, taste.
Wine aging is a science. Chemical compounds influence the ageability of a bottle of wine and its evolution. Understanding their impact on a specific wine – and the artful influence of a winemaker – will greatly assist a consumer in finding a palate-pleasing wine.
We’ll explore additional factors affecting the ageability and aging of wine in a future column.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.