Wines are some of the few things in the world that get better as they get older. Be it a common cabernet or a fruity fortified, the wine you buy on Margaret River wine tours today can only taste better years from now. Indeed, the world’s oldest drinkable wine—the Rudsheimer Apostelwein—was produced back in 1727.
What's the secret behind wine's seemingly everlasting taste and aroma? Steve Delaney of the Opimian Society, a Canadian nonprofit wine cooperative, enlists the help of science to unravel this mystery.
Phenols and Esters
The amount of phenols and esters in a bottle of wine define the aroma and taste, respectively. Even after being made into wine, these fruit-derived compounds continue reacting to the wine’s acidity. This reaction explains the changing aroma and taste of certain wines over the years.
The most notable of these compounds, however, are tannins. These account for why certain wines taste good with specific types of food. Although most common in red wines, some tannins are present in other wines as well, especially those aged in oak barrels. Tannins, Delaney writes, reduce saliva's lubricating properties, allowing the mouth to savor the full flavor of wine.
Now or Later?
If wine tastes good with age, does this mean it's better to wait past your prime to enjoy the fruity fortified you bought from wineries like The Berry Farm?
Wine connoisseur Matt Kramer says this is no longer the case for modern wines. The methods have changed and improved since the time of James Cook, thanks to climate control technologies, green farming, and fermentation machines that speed up the process from days to hours. Some old-fashioned methods, like barrel storage, are still being practiced.
Remember the oldest drinkable wine in the world? If age is the primary standard, the title goes to the Cypriot Commandaria, which is known to have been in production as early as 2,000 B.C. The original Commandaria, of course, no longer exists although the technique is still around. Yet wine can only age so long before it becomes undrinkable, like the 1652 version of the Rudsheimer.
Fortunately, fine wines from a Margaret River winery can be enjoyed straight off the shelf. Some aging would be nice, but you don’t have to wait for years for the phenols and esters to work their magic. Get a taste of award-winning fruit wines made from locally harvested fruits processed on-site at a place like The Berry Farm.
(Source: "What happens to wine as it ages," The Telegram, July 18, 2014)