Time’s consequences for the three quality defining parameters in wine

The wine producer, he who puts wine in its bottle, is he who definitely fixates that wine’s pleasantness index. Bottling indeed, fixates and defines the parameters’ analytical values, and those will define quality. Being familiar with the parameters’ analytical nature, make us able to see how time objectively affects them.

Consistency, to wit wine’s extractive richness, is analytically stable, showing just a light downward trend (-2/3% after 10 years). From the extractive perspective, some white wines will last unaltered, others could bring on some light tartaric precipitations, that are crystalline sediments only shown by mature white wines very rich in extract. Such a deposit could be more significant in red wines: polyphenols’ concentration (tannins among the others) differs and differently reacts to time; substances are too heavy to stay dissolved, thus time will result in their aggregation. Potential deposits should not be considered as evidence of defects, but as wine’s marks for ripeness and richness. Time will never return us a wine more consistent then how it was when young. Extract cannot generate or increase itself just for the time it spent inside the bottle.

Wine’s balance, so its various component’s harmonic ratio in its pH leaded taste, is analytically stable over time, with a light downward trend. It is so much fundamental for the pH to remain unaltered over time, that nature reinforced it with a tampon meant to fixate and preserve it, a protective buffer characterized by its own particular strength (what we call a high/low buffer strength).

Besides this, from a sensorial point of view, time will reduce any wine’s balance. A rising amount of oxidised substances (disintegrated and crumbled by passing time) corresponds to a rising intensity of bitter and sour sensations, while sweetness stays stable or it even decreases. Oxidised substances taste rancid, to wit bitter-sour and not smooth, in wine and else. According to what has been stated:

  1. A wine’s high balance at bottling, will endure time that way, weakened progressively by age.
  2. A wine’s low balance at bottling, bitterness and sourness brought out stronger than sweetness, will age just that way. Until a turning point eventually comes, when the decomposition process will be completed for all extractive substances, when even the pH will be mutated, then a completely and irreversibly maderized wine will taste sweetish and bittersweet, unpleasantly mellifluous.

Regarding integrity: if a wine is sulphurous, acetic, ligneous, blurred or dairy, such defects will not be remotely altered by its ageing. Wine will remain as flawed as it is when it reaches the bottle. As consistency will not auto-generate over time, so flaw will not dissipate nor arise by it self. Now, wine’s freshness, it is a matter of oxidation: the passage of time will gradually increase it.

It follows what as far has been stated that any wine’s pleasantness index will age steadily, but progressively spiralling down over time. The originally tasted consistency, balance and integrity are going to be gradually reduced, and with them the pleasantness index, as time passes, for any existing wine.

Wine does not get better over time

Similarly to what could happen to every one of you, when approaching wine, I studied from all tasting classics how time should make wine better. At first, in good faith as it is natural when approaching something new, I truly believed in such assumption. Tasting an unpleasant wine, I used to say to myself (as some producers and many experts still do): “ It is not ready. Today’s unpleasantness will turn stupendous in few years”. Gaining knowledge, growing from enthusiast to be a professional taster, I chose to seek a scientific demonstration, directly experimenting what’s one of the most common and uncritically shared wine’s cliché. I decided to methodically investigate. I founded what was then a new branch for tasting: the dynamic-organoleptic analysis. I would buy 12 bottles of a certain wine, then I would go on tasting a new one every six months. Thus, in order to verify and highlight any ageing effect, I would write about that wine, comparing the progressive tastings, in a column of my specialised magazine called ‘’ The Observatory: dynamic-organoleptic analysis”.

What I found myself recording was not an improving wine at all, no development was observed in its consistency, or balance, or integrity. On the contrary I did unfailingly find just the same identical wine, or a progressively lowering balance, and mainly worsening integrity. I examined over a hundred different wines, differing for origins and vintages, grapes could be of any kind, vinification could be done anywhere. After seven years practicing, as soon as I systematically observed what you just read, I abolished that column.

As natural, in every observed case time generated a slow but progressive decrease of every wine’s organoleptic characteristics, with its inborn consistency and original aromatic balance lasting steadily.

In the past, sometimes, the ageing process could indeed be used as a way to optimise wine: up until 15 years ago, oenology could not count on today’s efficient techniques for wine’s stabilisation. Not infrequently what tasted as a good wine while visiting its winery, once bought, after the short time of its transportation home, it could already result deteriorated or re-fermented. These effects would mutate that wine’s physico-chemical composition, thereby mutating its sensorial profile (because of the well-known principle of causality connecting wine’s physico-chemicals profile with its sensorial performance). Bygone wines was not stable, thus it could not be sold on an industrial scale. Today’s advanced stabilising techniques make wines that are analytically stables, which means physico-chemically time-proof. Today’s wine is definitely stable in its main components quali-quantitative definition: pigments, proteins, acids, polyphenols, sugars, etc. Any substance that in wine could precipitate or mutate is selectively removed or neutralized during the oenological process and before the final bottling. Such a chemical stability consequentially allows sensorial stability.

What about those people still fostering old tales about wine getting better over time? Those are the few, last, obsolete wine producers, whose highest purpose is to achieve a good evaluation of their wine (so supporting the idea that ‘’ if a wine’s taste is unpleasant, no blame on the producer, it’s indeed the taster’s fault for drinking it too early, when wine was not ready yet)

The notion that time adds value to wine hindered wine’s qualitative development. Notion embraced and un-critically encouraged by specialized critics that legitimized many producers in selling wines lacking in consistency, balance and integrity. What is worse is that producers and critics described them as wines meant for ageing, whose best is still to come. Reality’s opposite then, as we have seen how time does not heal wine’s flaws, indeed it increases them, while its qualities slowly deteriorate.

According to these observation, who really loves wine should be inflexible about this: wine must show its highest consistency, balance and integrity when bottled, considering and expecting time’s consequence to be a gradual reduction of the three qualitative parameters.

Proved the notion’s falsity, it is worth reflecting about the reason why such notion (time adds value to wine) has taken hold. Besides the outlined instability, oenology’s past technical and technological scarcity (up until 1955) can be mentioned as a cause of that sharply acetic taste, once typical of any wine. Well, the only way to perceive any pleasure in drinking an acetic wine was to oxidize it so much and so clearly that the mellow and sweetish maderization could balance that harsh acetic acute, otherwise too penetrating and sharp to be inhaled or swallowed (vinegar x madera = fruit-like aroma).

But today, when wines originate integer and round, when the acetic edge has been smoothened, there is no reason left to extensively age wine. Fresh wines shall be produced instead, as intact as possible, since the best existing way to give wine a lasting pleasantness in bottle is to preserve its fruit’s original oxidative integrity.

Wine lasts over time

This is it, wine’s actual surplus value: no unsubstantiated enhancement capability over time, rather, a significant endurance power ensuring its pleasantness a long life. It is alcohol’s positive effect: ever-present in wine, it is indeed a degradation process’ temporizer and delayer.

This is it, thanks to alcohol, wine’s taste and aroma, rather than quickly deteriorate, they let their sensorial virtues slowly fade, resulting edible, meaning drinkable, for a very long time. Alcohol works as a protective screen for wine’s constituents, ensuring their integrity’s resistance over much more time than that of any other food before spoiling.

As a matter of fact, wine is the only global agricultural sensorial archive that we can pleasantly enjoy. Only wine allows us to taste something the earth gifted us with, for example, in 1990.

Thus, this is the real marvel. This is the real principle behind wine’s increasing value over time.

On the market, today, it is easy to find many recently bottled wines, whereas still pleasant vintage wines are few, rare to find, high and increasing in value.

In the course of time wine’s economic value gets constantly reassessed: year-by-year vintage wines, especially the good ones, become increasingly rare, thus valuable.

Potential Longevity

Wine’s capability to age depends on two factors: its consistency and its bottled oxidative integrity. The higher wine’s consistency and the lower its oxidation at bottling time, then the longer its potential remaining life is. This is why ageing wine too much before bottling turns out detrimental.

A wine that is oxidized from its outset, whose tint is turning brown from white, or orange from red, will not endure time as well as an equally rich but more integer wine. Largely aged wines will not age much more. Only preserving the original fruit’s freshness intact maximizes wine’s potential longevity. The less oxidized a wine is when bottled, the longer its life, the farther off its oxidation.

If we purely consider wine’s extract, white wines whose consistency’s value lays between 20 and 24 will be pleasantly drinkable within 18 months of the labelled vintage; if the value is between 25 and 28, two to three years is the ageing such wine will afford. Over 28 points will ensure 4 to 5 years of safe ageing. Reds whose consistency is between 24 and 26 points will be pleasantly drinkable within the first 3 years following the vintage, 29/30 points will enlarge a red wine’s life to 5/7 years; over 30 points in consistency will guarantee until 10 ageing years form bottling.

Generally speaking, oxidization must be optimized, close to none, when placing a wine on the market, in order to make some useful and effective indicators for the wine’s potential residual integrity of the reported value. 


Wine’s evolution after bottling: tertiarization

Oxidation acts gradually, day after day, corroding wine’s original brightness and freshness, transforming a prime young and fresh fruit in an evolved fruit, a fruit whose rich aromatic shades are progressively, but thanks to alcohol in a controlled manner, oxidizing. It shall be a primary fruit, added of alcohol’s secondary aromas, gradually becoming tertiary.

What time does to wine is not different from what it would do to some abandoned newspaper on our car’s dashboard. First day: it is white, absolutely integer; Second day: a film is forming on its top, a yellowish film whose intensity is going to increase; third day: it is a bit more yellow. It is going to be copper after a month, then brown after a year.

The thickening of that oxidized film will make the newspaper more difficult and less enjoyable to read, but it will never change any news’ essential nature. This is what also happens to wine: consistency and balance will stay the same, integrity will turn into an increasingly oxidized, evolved, terziarizated version of itself.

Lets graphically represent a fruit-wine in order to compare its oxidative dynamics with those of a wine that is its sensorial opposite. Consistency, also known as constitutive texture or wine’s connective tissue; balance, symbolized by roundness, and integrity, whose representation is the circle’s perfect definition and closure.

A wine with a low pleasantness index is a poorly consistent wine, graphically expressible drawing a large mark (like a fishing net); if balance is not at its best either, if the smell is acute and sharp, so the graphic shall be, while the line shall be irregular, open, dashed by oxidation as the wine’s integrity is.

Thus this is wine’s state at bottling. One year later the film develops, after two years the film gets thicker, and thickness will worsen on year by year. While a wine with a low pleasantness index will not endure oxidation and will be much less pleasant within a year from bottling, a fruit-wine’s pleasantness is immediately great, slowly altered by passing time.

Actually, qualitative differences among differently pleasant wines tend to be emphasized by passing time. All in all, lets say it once more, the more qualitative a wine is in its young age, the more qualitative it could be after ageing. The better the primary sensations are, the better the tertiary ones will be.

Taste-aroma combination through evolution

It should always be clear that any aroma or taste we perceive when we sense a wine of any age is given by the sum of its constitutive chemical compounds. Bring the glass to your nose and you’ll perceive a block, a set of sensations, some positives, some negatives. The higher the active compounds’ quality is, the more enjoyable such wine will be.

Lets suppose that a certain wine X’s perceived perfume is worth 100 points, lets pretend then that wine X has been bottled with a perfect oxidative integrity. We shall now start following this wine through its ageing.

We started establishing that the total perfume, the 100 points value, is the sensorial evidence of our wine’s only Living Tasting Substances (LTS from now on), that are designed to turn into Evolved Tasting Substances (ETS from now on), where evolved means subject to monitored oxidation. After 2 years I will still perceive a 100 points perfume, but not only made of LTS: 30 points in fact will be given by ETS; after 5 years the total sensed perfume should be the sum of 55 LTS and 45 ETS; once 10 years have passed the ratio will be of 30 residual LTS, with 70 increasing LTS. Personal preference is tuned to those evolutional sensorial shades, the ideal mix of LTS and ETS, thus the choice of the right moment to drink that very wine is a subjective and cultural matter.

Subjectivity is in how some people could prefer fresh and perfectly integer wines, others could like better a certain combination of LTS and ETS, while others could love wines in their tertiary evolutionary phase and others could love fully oxidized wines.

Now, the reason why it is also a cultural matter: those who love very evolved wines belong to older generations, their senses have been trained when it what technically hard to prevent and control oxidation. These people are accustomed to perceive wine’s lack of freshness as an intrinsic virtue. Meanwhile, younger people, culturally accustomed and raised consuming absolutely integer beverages, they many times choose to not drink wine because of its antiquated taste.

Whatever is your personal preference, only showing perfect integrity from the moment of its placing on the market, a wine will be able evolving to satisfy everybody’s tastes. Whereas in fact a perfectly integer wine (thus liked by the young ones), will develop those oxidized shades so much loved by long-standing wine enthusiasts, no reverse process is going to happen. If it is oxidized form the beginning, it is a wine definitely targeted to a limited public, moreover bounded to extinguish. This is not to mention that such a wine, even if only partially oxidized, is not a wine worth investing: since poor in oxidative residual integrity, its residual time for ageing is short. The lower a wine’s oxidation is at the beginning, the longer its potential longevity will be and the higher its analytical and commercial value.

Investment wines

Specifically because of its exclusive capability to finely last a long time, wine is always more in the spotlight among collectors, investors and speculators. It is the basis of such a tendency a very robust global demand for high sensorial-analytical standard qualified wines. It is the substantial value on top of several others in making wine a good for business as well as for pleasure. 

What follows is the close examination of those parameters defining investment wines’ quotation and commercial value (what is in brackets specifies the parameter’s key value and its technical value).Weather trend in the vintage of production:

- grape’s extractive richness (wine’s potential extractive richness) 

Wine’s intrinsic analytical value: 

- Extractive richness (concentration, substances enabling endurance) 

- Pleasant taste’s balance (constituents’ balanced ratio). 

- Absence of oenological defects (wine’s cleanliness). 

- oxidative residual integrity (ability to last for a yet to come oxidative deteriorating process).

Wine’s evaluation in guides and/or journals:

Trade value of the product.

Actual wine enthusiasts’ market demand:

- short term realizable coefficient of wine’s trade value.

Number of produced bottles:

- Sometimes a low production, as a mean of supply rarity, is a benefit, but some other times it is irrelevant (as for the French Château)

Region of origin’s international and historical quotation:

- extent of the demand for the wines produced in that area.

Winery’s international prestige:

- extent of the demand for the wines produced by that winery.

Standardization of excellence:

- It tends to be more valuable that wine whose excellence has been continuously achieved in many vintages.

Number of residual bottles:

- as time passes, finding available a certain wine, produced in a certain vintage, becomes more rare

Bidding value in wine auctions:

- appeal and resulting surplus in the market for rare and/or antique wines’

Provenance and storage condition:

- commercial and collectible value depends on how it has been stored by who sold and how bought it.