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Dear Dr. Vinny,
One of the primary reasons French Bordeaux have a longer bottle age than most wines is because of the amount of tannins in the wine. Why, then, when Burgundies are much lighter in color and tannins, do they have the same ability for aging?
—Marsh M., via the Internet
While the presence of tannins contributes to a wine’s aging potential, I believe you’re overstating their importance. Tannins are just one part of a wine’s structure, along with acidity, alcohol and glycerol. Tannins contribute to the way a wine feels in your mouth, and they certainly help make long-term aging possible because they’re a defense against oxidation.
But a wine needs more than just a healthy dose of tannins to make it ageworthy. After all, not all tannic wines age well. To do so, a wine needs a combination of structure, flavor and intensity, and this combination will vary from wine to wine—an ageworthy Port will have a very different profile than an ageworthy Barolo.
I like to remind folks that a cellar is not a wine hospital. If a wine is unbalanced and unappealing when young, it’s not going to magically turn into a balanced and appealing old wine. And people who like their wines young and full of fresh fruit flavors won’t necessarily fall in love with the taste of older wines.
Still, red Burgundy typically has a pretty healthy dose of tannins, but more importantly, the best examples also have plenty of intensity and acidity, which can give them the stuffing to age well. Keep in mind that most wines are pretty darn tasty when they’re released, even if they’re built to age. And if you’re going to cellar your wines, make sure to protect your investment and store them properly.
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