In what ways do old and new wines smell and taste different?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

In what ways do old and new wines smell and taste differently?

—Jon, Tempe, Ariz.

Dear Jon,

That depends greatly on the character of the wine, how young or old it is, and how it has been stored. Generally speaking, however, by the 10-year mark, you’ll start to notice that a wine’s primary flavors—the fresh fruit flavors like cherry, berry, apple, citrus, etc.—are fading. Instead of bursting through as fresh or ripe, they are quieter, or take on baked, dried or stewed expressions.

Secondary characteristics start to become more pronounced as wine ages as well, and those are the ones that come from the winemaking processes (fermentation, malolactic conversion and especially oak barrel aging)—think spice, vanilla, cedar, coffee or tea notes.

Wines that have been aging for a decade or longer can start exhibiting tertiary aromas and flavors. These are complex earthy, nutty, mushroom-like notes. What’s happening is that phenolic compounds are linking together and dropping out of suspension (creating sediment, which can be a visual clue that the wine has aged). It’s also what makes older wines start to fade in color or take on more coppery or brick-like hues.

One other way that red wines change as they age is that a young wine's prominent tannins will start to become more integrated with the wine, and eventually start to recede as well, although tannins are more closely associated with what wine tasters refer to as structure, rather than aroma or flavor.

—Dr. Vinny

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