How is a great old wine different from a great young wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Generally speaking, what’s the difference, on a great wine, between when it is young and old (when it’s drinking well in both situations)?

—Henio B., Natal, Brazil

Dear Henio,

As a wine ages (assuming it’s been stored well), phenolic compounds link together and drop out of suspension to become sediment, the color fades and/or becomes more brown, fruit flavors move more into the background and secondary notes come more into the foreground. The perception of acidity and tannins also evolves. Most of the time, the wine will seem softer and mellower, though I’ve had older wines where the tannins and acidity are still going strong.

Then there are aromatics and flavors that develop during the aging process called “tertiary” notes. They tend to be complex, with prominent floral, spice, earth and mineral components. When an older wine is really singing, its finish goes on forever. But well-aged, terrific older wines definitely lose their youthful freshness and fruit flavors. I think they can be an acquired taste, and not every wine is meant to be aged.

—Dr. Vinny

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