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How Long to Age Master Vintner Wines

If you’ve made more than one batch of wine you’ve already come across two of Vandergrift's principles of home winemaking.

  1. Consumption will rise to meet all available sources of wine.
  2. The last bottle from any batch tastes the best.
Two things you hear from people making their first kit are (in order) “I’ll never be able to drink thirty bottles of wine!” followed by (within a month), “I have to make more wine—I’m all out!”

The first complaint turns into the second one because although few people drink thirty bottles of wine by themselves along, you’d be amazed at how many friends you suddenly have when you have an unlimited supply of wine. Also, when there's thirty bottles sitting around it's nothing to open one for guests, another for dinner. a third for sharing afterwards, etc, etc.

But everyone has heard of vintage wines, aged for years or even decades that transform into the ultimate in desirable beverages. If you're drinking your wine within days of bottling you're missing out on the aging ideal. But is that a real thing for kit wines? The answer is unequivocally yes, it really is.

How Long Should You Age Your Wine?

A lot of kit winemakers have the idea in their heads that when a wine is ready to go into the wine bottle it’s ready to drink. It just isn’t so. Check any liquor store or bottle shop in your town and you'll see that even the cheapest bottles are a year old, and anything above three-dolla-holla is two, three or more years of age.

Commercial wines are intended to be drunk within hours of being sold, so wineries age them as long as economic realities allow before releasing them. They want to make sure that their customers enjoy the best wine possible.

If you’re sneaking bottles right after bottling day, to 'test' them, sure, they are pretty good, but that isn't the idea time to be drinking your wine! Luckily for you most kit wines have an edge for aging, and it's all got to do with solid materials.

Kit wines borrow a trick from the commercial world. Many wines that are intended for early drinking use juices that are heavily clarified before blending. With the advent of pre-fermentation filtration in the 1970's (pioneered by Australian winemakers), it's been recognized that wines that with lower levels of solid materials (pulp, skins, seeds, stems, etc) before fermentation are ready to drink much sooner, with cleaner, more assertive fruit flavors and less off-flavors than those with a lot of solid material in suspension.

Kit manufacturing has taken advantage of this, packing only very clear juices and concentrates so you wine will be ready as soon as possible.

Winemaker's Reserve have a medium amount of solids and are usually ready to bottle within a month of their fining day, and not only taste smooth that day, but also improve radically for at least a year, holding for a couple of more years before going off-peak. Winemaker's Reserve may trade a small amount of long term development for drinkability, but that’s exactly its place in the world: yummy, yummy drinkiness.

However large kits like Sommelier Select contain a lot of fresh, single-strength grape juice, which has higher levels of dissolved solid material. That means it's going to take longer to age and settle down to drinkability.

Of course, you can drink it immediately, and it will taste great--even better than Winemaker's Reserve of the same age. But after a year in the bottle it will improve even more, and with three, four or five years--or more--of cellaring it will pay you off like you never dreamed of, just like a vintage wine.

But Why Age?

Aging is the key to adding more aroma, flavor, character and quality to your wine. There's no technique you can apply, no wine yeast you can use, no filter that will help, and no gadget or magnetic doohickey or secret ingredient that will improve your wine like simply letting it age will. Age, pure and simple, will make you a better winemaker than anyone with access to the same ingredients, but a smaller supply of patience than you, will ever be.

A lot of home winemakers wind up drinking the very last bottle of a batch just as it’s perfectly aged and most enjoyable. You can get ahead of the aging curve and build up some nicely aged wines if you're willing to make extra batches, bottle them, and let them rest.

I know, it doesn’t sound like any fun. But every bottle you put aside until it's ready, really ready will pay off amazingly, and you'll truly uncork something special.

For more information on How to Make Wine check out our Bottle Knowledge archive.

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