How to know if a wine is fit for ageing

Some of the questions most frequently asked by our customers are to do with the recommended length of time to keep a wine for.

Does this wine have good ageing potential? Will this wine continue improving with time? Is this wine at its optimum moment of consumption? These are some of the most repeated questions, and their answers depend on many factors. In this post we will try and shed some light on this matter.


© El Sibarita Urbano

It’s imperative that you clearly know the objective of keeping a wine: It’s a process in which the passing of time allows a “hard” wine to soften, refine and harmonize, despite already being of a high quality, allowing the wine to acquire tertiary aromas that significantly increase its quality.

Based on this precept we have put together some basic points to take into account when trying to work out if a wine has good ageing potential:

1-     They are always very high quality wines (and unfortunately, in general expensive as well). Some of the most famous Spanish wines for ageing are worth several hundred euros, like L’Ermita 2010 for example, the sought-after jewel of Priorat.

2-     They are always “hard” wines, with a lot of structure. By structure we mean the “framework” of the wine, in other words, acidity, tannins and alcohol.

3-     We should only keep wines that will continue to improve in the future. Not all wines and not all varieties continue improving once they leave the winery, and in any case, Crianza wines can be aged for 6-8 years, 10-15 for Reserva wines and up to 20-25 years for Gran Reserva wines. After this timescale, the evolution of the wine will stagnate, and it will start to decline.

So, how do we know if a wine has the characteristics fit for ageing?

To answer this question we must pay attention to the two basic cornerstones of wine production: The quality of the grape, and the technique of the winemaking process.

With regards to the fruit, there are certain grape varieties which are more appropriate than others for making wines for ageing. A grape traditionally used in wines for ageing is Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot.

In Spain the grape normally used to make wines for ageing is Tempranillo, since it has a good acidity/tannin/acohol ratio. Even so, many of the Gran Reservas of Rioja contain a percentage of Graciano (which brings an extra acidity) and Mazuela (an extra dose of colour extraction). Others, for example the excellent Muga Prado Enea 2005, even contain a bit of Grenache, which helps reinforce the sugars and fruity aromas.

The vintage can also give clues as to whether a wine is suitable for ageing. The drier vintages, characterized by vines with low yields, and thus, with a greater concentration of sugars and aromas, are favourable for producing a wine with good ageing potential.

Likewise, the geographical origin of the wine can also indicate if a wine is suitable for ageing or not. In Spain, the most ideal areas for producing a wine for ageing are found in the North of the country, because the lower temperatures provide higher levels of acidity in the grape.

And finally, the essential part in making great wines for ageing is following the best process for making the grape into wine.

Some perfect Tempranillo grapes don’t result in wines fit for ageing if the wine producer doesn’t follow the steps necessary to make this type of wine. Likewise, right from the vineyard the same wine producer can influence whether a grape is fit for making wine for ageing, for example lowering production (cutting green bunches) of the vines, with the aim of increasing the concentration of elements in the grape.

Once in the winery, in order to produce wines for ageing, the grapes must be given more time in contact with their skins in order to improve the extraction of colour, aromas and tannins, the factor that produces this “hardness” when these wines are young.

Likewise, long ageing in oak barrels also brings complexity to the wine and increases the chances of the wine improving with time.

Remember that a sucessful winemaking process of a wine fit for ageing depends on the constant temperature and humidity conditions.

That said, the only thing left to do now is recommend three of our favourite wines for ageing. Make space in your cellar for these three titans:

Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva 1994. Don’t worry, because this Tondonia is still a baby, created to become a historic wine. The vintage, 1994, was considered excellent by the Regulating Council of La Rioja. This wine has everything. All it needs is time.

Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2003. Back in 1969 when the Hollywood based Jean Leon from Santander (aka Ángel Ceferino), not content with the standard of the wines served in his restaurant in Los Angeles, decided to set up his own winery in Penedés (Barcelona). Since then, Jean Leon’s Gran Reserva has become synonymous with longevity. The first single-varietal of Cabernet Sauvignon in our country’s history. A wine very worth of ageing.

Viña Sastre Pesus 2003. An outstanding blend of Tempranillo (Tinto Fino), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Powerful and complex. Elegant and fruity. A jewel of Ribera del Duero that is only produced in the most exceptional vintages with 1500 bottles.

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