When it comes to well-made wines, patience really is a virtue. Our Cellar Master Johan Jordaan explains why.
Why should we age wine?
Time on your wine rack typically results in more complex wines with enhanced flavours.
What enables the wine to age?
Tannins, which are present in both the grapes’ skins and in oak barrels, act as a natural preservative, enabling the wines to age and helping to retain its texture and flavours.
As a general rule, varietals with thicker skins and higher tannins (like Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon) are more suited to ageing. Others like Pinot Noir, have very thin skins and thus little tannin, and are less suited to ageing.
If a wine matures in oak barrels before bottling, it also gains tannins from exposure to the wood.
And so, both the length of time the wine is exposed to the skins at the beginning of the winemaking process as well as the length of time the wine spends maturing in oak barrels will influence how long a wine can remain ageing in your cellar.
If the wine has had minimal skin contact and no or little time in the barrel, don’t age it: enjoy it when it’s young.
How does ageing affect tannins?
When you drink a young wine which is high in tannin, it can taste quite woody and have a bit of a chewy texture. Additionally, their finish can be abrupt – instead of gently tapering, they can be very “square” – leaving your palate feeling oddly empty once you’ve swallowed.
Time – and patience! – works wonders, however. As the months progress, tannins from the skins and from the wood (if the wine matured in an oak barrel) mesh together, forming a more elegant, gentler structure that allows for a more nuanced appreciation of the wine’s flavours. Aged wines also tend to have a richer and creamier mouthfeel than young ones. They smoothly linger on your palate, offering a rounded finish.
Can you age an unwooded white wine?
Yes! Us South Africans tend to be an impatient bunch… we have a tendency to drink wines of all colours – but especially white – very young. Often this is because there’s the perception that an unwooded white wine will go “off” or taste vinegary or lack complexity if we wait a few years to drink them.
While some unwooded white wines definitely should be drunk as young as possible because they contain very little tannin and are not made to last, some are beautifully enhanced by ageing – such as our 21 Gables Sauvignon Blanc. This is made with grapes from mature dryland vines that produce small, intensely-flavoured berries with thick skins (and thus high tannins). In the cellar, we let the wine have contact with the skins for as long as six weeks (unlike many wineries which only allow skin contact of up to 10 days). The result is more stability and colour and finer, more complex, and rich tannins that boost the wines’ longevity.
How should I store my wines to ensure optimal ageing?
Store them in the dark or low light. Keep the temperature consistent – ideally 15°C for both and white red. Avoid ultraviolet light or leaving it in a car boot on a hot day, please!
Eek! I’m not able to store wines at a consistent, cool temperature; what should I do?
If you don’t have the right conditions, then rather drink them now instead of being disappointed when you open them in a few years’ time. Open the bottle a few hours before you intend to drink it – the exposure of the wine to oxygen is an accelerated version of ageing that will provide some of its benefits – notably more relaxed tannins and a smoother mouthfeel.
How do you know what wines to buy with the intention of ageing without tasting them?
1. Look at the track record of the farm and the specific wine. What local and international accolades have they received, and has this happened consistently?
2. Research where the grapes come from. Thanks to their deep soils, cooling sea breezes and frequently older vines, the Helderberg, Darling and Durbanville regions are a good bet, often producing wines that age beautifully.
3. When you’re buying, check out the conditions of the store you’re in. If you’re in a wine shop that exposes its bottles to fluctuating temperatures and blasts of sun, then what you buy there is unlikely to age well.
Which Spier wine do you recommend ageing?
Many of our wines – especially those from our Creative Block, 21 Gables and Seaward ranges – are suitable for ageing. However, if I had to pick just one, I’d choose the Creative Block 5. This is a true symphony of a wine, with Bordeaux varietals led by Cabernet Sauvignon achieving a perfect, rousing harmony.
The wine’s malolactic fermentation and maturation took place in 300L French oak barrels for 18 months, which have contributed to densely concentrated tannins that will soften and smoothen with time. The 2018 vintage’s intoxicating blackberry, cherry and blackcurrant flavours will become even more beguiling in the years to come.
Already the wine has been attracting the attention of the critics – Creative Block 5 2018 received 4.5 stars from Platter’s and won the Duimpie Bayly Veritas Vertex Award at the Veritas Awards 2021 – the prize for the prestigious competition’s highest-scoring wine.
Grab yourself a case and stash it away to enjoy five to 10 years from now.
- Both red and white wines can be aged
- Time on your wine rack typically results in more complex wines with enhanced flavours and a creamier, more rounded mouthfeel
- Tannins, which are present in both the grapes’ skins and in oak barrels, act as a natural preservative, enabling wine to age and helping to retain its texture and flavours
- Age wines with high tannins (such as Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon)
- If the wine has had minimal skin contact and no or little time in the barrel, don’t age it: enjoy it when it’s young
- Store your wines in the dark or low light. Keep the temperature consistent – ideally 15°C for both and white red