I've occasionally had a few bottles that got shoved to the back of the
cabinet, and not excavated until they were 7-8 years old -- and they
were excellent, much better at that age than at 1-2 years.
Generally, the longer you age wine, the better it gets, as long as you
protect it adequately against degradation. A chemical reaction takes
place between the alcohol and the various acids in the wine which
changes the acids into esters, a class of compound which is responsible
for the flavors and aromas of most foods. This reaction occurs very
slowly, and continues for years. The longer wine ages, the more complex
the flavors become, as more and different esters are formed. It's
important to protect the wine from oxidation and from degradation by
ultraviolet light, if you want to age it for any length of time. This
means using the longest, tightest, best corks you can afford; using
adequate levels of sulfite in the wine; and storing it in dark bottles
in a dark place.
I try to age mine at least two years before drinking it, and I have
found that three years is better -- although the difference between two
years and three is not as great as the difference between one year and
two. I just this weekend bottled some Shiraz that I made from fresh
juice last fall, and it's *really* good -- so I plan to wait at least
another year before I drink any more of it.
Ya know, Tom, the main reason for making your own wine is to make
something that _you_ enjoy. The only way that you're going to learn what
works _for you_ is to experiment.
So I suggest you try this: After you bottle your next batch of wine,
divide the bottles into groups of at least three or four bottles each,
and mark them to be consumed:
- three months after bottling
- six months
- one year
- eighteen months
- two years
- three years
A year later, make another batch of the same wine, and do the same thing
with it. Do it again after another year, and again a year after that.
Then you can do side-by-side comparisons of wines that are new, one,
two, and three years old, and that should give you a pretty good idea of
how long you should age your wines so that you will be happy with them.
I've the last bottle of a wine I made 4 years ago from red grapes of
unknown variety for my father in law. It made a beautiful, rich,
pleasantly tannic and dark wine which was delicious at bottling! It
was even better the year after. The year after that it was ok, a
little bland, but I was starting to worry that it was degrading or
that my memory was aggrandised. The following year it was smooth and
pleasant but much less fruity. We plan to drink the last of it this
Christmas and then I will know if it peaked at 1 year, if I added
insufficient sulfites or if it is better again... I hope so.
I think there is a lot of craft in getting the balance right for even
a rich wine.