Grapevine: Concept Behind Creating Wines for the Decades

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

There is an ongoing debate of whether wine should be consumed young or after a period of aging. I am a proponent of consuming wine as it is released by a winery. Much of the wine released by winemakers is released young, primarily to generate the cash flow that permits investment in next year’s vintage. As a result, much of the wine sitting on wine shop shelves is sold young – and drunk young.

These wines provide instant gratification and satiate our appetite for pleasant wines at affordable prices.

But there is another stratosphere of wine being produced. These wines are revered for their propensity to develop over decades, resulting in a fine wine that is significantly more refined — and desirable — than the ready-to-drink bottles. These wines have garnered their own descriptive nomenclature: cult wines, collectors’ wines and wines built to last.

The term built-to-last sums up the intentions of winemakers and the desires of wine connoisseurs. As a living organism, wine is not a static agricultural product. Its shelf life is dependent on the underlying raw material and the production processes employed by winemakers. But the one factor that influences the greatness of these wines is the fortitude and patience of those who purchase these bottles. Time is the ultimate determinant that unleashes the potential greatness – or at times the ultimate downfall – of a built-to-last wine.

What makes these wines so different from the overwhelming majority of other wines produced and why are they so much more expensive?

There are four basic components of wine, each present in varying degrees and exerting varying influences: tannins, acidity, taste and alcohol. The combination of each of these determines the final style and life cycle of wine.

Tannins provide longevity. The level of acidity and taste (fruit) in a wine will determine its balance and age worthiness. As a wine matures, alcohol will tend to mellow the overall character of the wine, making it more approachable and pleasant. By manipulating these components, a winemaker is able to craft a particular style and aging potential.

For example, in the Bordeaux region of France, vintages can be erratic; the influence of the four components can be daunting. Achieving the ideal balance that influences the longevity and maturation of a wine may be hindered by nature. This is why these wines are created from a blend of up to five different grape varietals.

If the winegrowing season has been ideal, the fruit component of the harvested primary wine may dominate the other three components, potentially producing a fruit-forward wine that will peak out after several years and then begin to quickly fade. To achieve the desired balance for sustaining, and enhancing, the life of this wine, a winemaker will blend in a second wine that has high acid, a third wine to add backbone and tannins, even a fourth and fifth wine to manage alcohol levels and color intensity.

Likewise, if the winegrowing season has been poor, the fruit component may be weak and lacking finesse. To achieve the desired balance, one to four additional wines may be added to the primary wine, ultimately producing an amalgam of the best qualities of each.

On to pricing. The top wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy invariably command marketplace prices in the thousands of dollars – per bottle. The cost to produce these wines can be significantly more expensive than most wines, but rarely equate to the geometrically higher prices in the market.

The single most influential factor contributing to the high cost of these wines is market appeal. Their reputation commands higher prices. Their scarcity fosters higher prices. Their lofty status creates irrational exuberance among high-end collectors, and drives up prices.

Just as human development is impacted by an individual’s history and environmental influences, so too is it with wine. Likewise, fine wines require patience, often measured in decades, before their full potential is reached and a superior end result is achieved.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.



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