“Aged wine” is a rather open-ended term lacking any specificity to a particular wine. Your concept of aging may be a matter of a few days – or hours; mine may be several decades.
While one consumer may not have the patience or ideal storage environment to age wine properly, another may invest thousands of dollars in a state-of-the-art home wine cellar to allow a fine wine to develop and mature over an extended period.
A number of wine regions and individual wineries around the world age certain of their wines at the winery before the wines are released in the marketplace. Thus, a consumer has the choice of purchasing wines that have been “pre-aged” and ready for immediate consumption (or for further aging at home).
When you pop open that bottle you purchased today, it may already have been coddled through several years of aging.
Typical winery aging for both reds and whites is 12 to 15 months. However, some wines are intended to be consumed fresh; they are released after just a few months of aging. Examples: Rosé, Beaujolais Nouveau.
Certain reds are mandated by regulatory bodies to be aged for a specific period before release. Example: Brunello di Montalcino must be aged in a combination of barrel and bottle for five years. Add an additional year and the winemaker may add the term “Riserva” on the label. When you purchase a Brunello, the label will thus indicate the period of aging at the winery.
Such rules govern other red wines as well. In other wine regions, local practice is considered sacrosanct. Example: in the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions of France, local winemakers typically will age wines in their cellars for two years before release. The responsibility for continuing the aging process necessary for the wine to develop fully (as many as 30 years) is left to high-end merchants, expensive restaurants and collectors with personal wine cellars.
Each release date is governed locally and may or may not carry a unique term designating the age. Of course, simple math is a key indicator. Example: If you purchase a bottle of Spanish Rioja from the 2005 vintage with the term Gran Reserva on the label, your smartphone browser will tell you that it was aged in barrel and bottle at the winery for five years and your smartphone calculator will tell you it has been aging away from the winery for an additional 10 years.
A unique wine that goes beyond regulatory guidelines: Vega Sicilia Unico, a world-renowned Spanish wine that is typically aged in the winery for at least 10 years before release, making it one of the longest winery-aged wines in the world.
As one might expect, having a wine aged under the controlled environment and professional supervision at the winery will extract the greatest expression of the wine and assure the consumer of its “provenance,” the documented history of the cellar conditions under which a wine has been stored.
Another example of prolonged aging: Tête de cuvee Champagnes. Certain vintages are outstanding compared to others. Champagne makers, like the producer of Dom Pérignon, often age these bottles longer – up to 15 years – before releasing them into the market, where under proper storage conditions they may age gracefully for several more decades.
Each release of Vega Sicilia and Dom Pérignon carry an associated premium to compensate the wineries for the added cost of long-term cellaring and the allure that a rare wine generates.
The choice is yours. Purchase a young, built-to-last wine and age it yourself in your home wine storage unit or purchase a winery-aged wine, at a higher cost than a typical bottle of wine, and enjoy it at your convenience.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is the co-chairperson of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. 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.