Uncommon Pairings: Age Your Wine!

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Welcome back to Uncommon Pairings, a series all about wine! Today, we’re talking about why people age wine and how to age wine for a fraction of the (often) triple-digit cost by doing it yourself.

Have you ever considered buying a bottle of wine with an older vintage and then balked at the price tag? Me too. I know that vintage matters; it’s just that if I’m running into a wine shop for a last-minute dinner wine, I’m probably not going to think about whether 1975 was a dry year for the Loire Valley. I’m going straight to the $25-and-under section and looking for something I know I’ll like.

But older wines are special! The aging process allows more subdued flavors to step forward and helps wine transform into a more mature, complex version of itself. I’m not here to convince you to buy the old wine. I’m sure if it’s on the shelf at my local wine store, it’s fit to drink, and I trust that it’s worth every penny. But I also think maybe — if you’re just dipping your toes into the whole aging process — maybe you could save some of those pennies and age wine yourself. You probably won’t be able to resell the wine for $500,000 (or any money, really), and you might wind up with something mostly undrinkable and covered in a thick layer of dust, but there’s a chance you might wind up with something really special.

Why age wine?

Besides the science of it all (which is very cool, and I promise we will talk about that in a second!) I think one of the best reasons to age wine is to commemorate something. I’ve heard of people buying whole cases of wine when their children are born (with the same vintage as the child’s birth year), and then slowly drinking their way through the case as their child grows up. Obviously, that’s a lot of commitment — both financially and from a space perspective — but it’s a beautiful way to mark a big life moment.

A smaller stakes way to approach this might be to get a few bottles with a vintage of note. If you got married in 2022, for example, you could buy a few bottles with that vintage and then open each one a few years apart.

Wine changes as it ages. While it’s young, it might be fruit-forward, but as it matures, some of that fruitiness disappears and the previously understated flavors take center stage. At the heart of this process is oxygen. You know how wine “turns” after a few days once it’s open? That’s oxidation. The cork helps slow down oxidation considerably. Aging is just controlled oxidation through the cork. You want the wine to mature, but not so much that it’s undrinkable!

Picking a wine to age

Technically, you can age any wine, but some survive the process better than others! If you have a favorite picnic wine (think anything light and easy, like a summer rosé or a sparkling natural blend), it’s best to drink that soon after you buy it. But a “bigger” wine like a Nebbiolo or a Cabernet Sauvignon can stand up to the aging process pretty well! In general, you’re looking for wines with high acid, high tannins, and/or high sugar. All of those things come into play during the aging process!

You don’t need to spend a ton of money here, either! I mean, if you’re aging a five dollar bottle of wine, I wouldn’t expect miraculous results, but I think you could find something to age within the $25-35 range — maybe a Bordeaux! To really track the wine’s evolution over time, I’d recommend getting a few of the same bottle. Drink one immediately, then slowly open the rest and note how the wine changes as the years progress.

How to age wine

The pros might have temperature-controlled wine cellars, but as long as you have a damp, cold basement (or just a part of your home that is damp and cold!) you’re totally fine. Scope out a dark area and make sure that the wine can rest on its side. TBH even if you aren’t aging your wine you should still be storing your wine this way!

If you’re an “out of sight, out of mind” person like I am, consider adding a reminder to your calendar every year to check on your wine. The last thing you want to do is to leave a perfectly good bottle of wine to age past its prime, like this bottle from 325 CE! You might also want to label the unopened bottles with the year that you plan to drink them in, especially if you’re tracking how the wine progresses over time.

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Ashni is a writer, comedian, and farmer's market enthusiast. When they're not writing, they can be found soaking up the sun, trying to make a container garden happen, or reading queer YA.

ashni has written 47 articles for us.

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