Eli5: Why is wine better the older it is?


I’ve never had a wine that was older than 10 years. So with that out of the way, what’s the big deal? Why is older wine better? I always assumed it was one of those snobby things where it’s not actually better but more of a status symbol. Am I wrong?

In: 2

Well, it definitely changes. Some of the alcohol evaporates, and some of the other components decay into other stuff, though I won’t claim to 100% understand all of the chemistry involved. But it definitely changes enough to have a completely different taste.

Now, does that make it *better*? That’s a matter of opinion, obviously, but the fact that old wine is necessarily in limited supply and more expensive/time consuming to produce does mean that it will be more expensive.

It’s not exactly “better”, it’s just “different” in ways that you can’t artificially reproduce. Wine that’s aged in casks will absorb some flavors from the wood and the charred wood in the casks. Wine that’s aged in the bottle will undergo some mild changes as the wine oxidizes from the little bit of air left in the bottle and from the yeast and other microorganisms continuing to interact after the main fermentation is complete.

Most wines don’t age well. There are lots of wines that will turn into vinegar if you leave them on a shelf too long. The various varieties of wine age/go bad at different rates, depending a lot on the grape variety and production process. If the government required wine makers to put a “drink by” date on every bottle of wine, some bottles would have a date 2-3 years after production, some might be 10 years, and some could be 20 years or more.

In general, wine in the bottle will mature and the flavor will change over time. Usually a wine will taste more fruity when it’s younger and will become more earthy and mellow as it ages. Whether that’s better or worse is a matter of personal taste, but beyond a certain point it’s going to change in ways that most people will consider worse.

People see very expensive old wines and assume they’re better just because they’re old, but it’s really more that they were good wines to begin with. If they weren’t they would have been consumed or tossed in the trash years ago. A wine maker might produce only a few thousand cases of a good wine that will age for 20 years or more. Over the years many get consumed, and the relatively few that remain become something of a collector’s item. They go up in value because there are so few of them left.

The price increase of older wine is due to their rarity more than their quality. Wine is sensitive to environmental conditions such as weather and soil. This means a winery can produce drastically different product year by year. As a result you never know when you’re going to get an excellent batch of wine and as time goes on the supply of that specific batch of wine decreases and never increases. This scarcity and the associated speculation means that old wine steadily increases in price.