Does Wine Need to Age?
“Yep. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”
Modern wine kits (I'm talking Master Vintner® here) and wine making kits are miracles that combine centuries of grape growing skill and accrued knowledge with advanced techniques for balancing and blending grapes and juices that allow you to make your own great wine the first time you try, and every time after that.
One of the many side benefits of making your own wine from wine kits is that they're ready to drink so soon. Commercial wines of the same quality all need a year or more in the bottle before they can be released for sale. With kits you can drink them in far less time and still have a great wine.
But how much less time? What's the minimum age? Which kits will drink the soonest? Are there any shortcuts?
The Truth About Young Wine
Any wine you enjoy drinking is ready to drink—if it tastes good to you, it is good. But my opinion is that if you're drinking anything with less than three months in the bottle you're committing Vinfanticide. There are probably a few shocked faces out there, 'You can keep a wine for three months?! How is this possible? I've never had wine last longer than three weeks in my house!' Sure, I get it: we all have wine-related emergencies in our lives.
But even though a kit is clear and ready to go into the wine bottle it's still young and jangly, and needs time to integrate flavors and aromas, and to settle down from the shaking-up it gets from being bottled. That takes anywhere from four to twelve weeks. After that it can knit up and start showing real character.
On the other hand, if you ever have aged a wine kit for a couple of years, you know that even value-priced can improve dramatically. A decade ago I forgot a bottle of Riesling I had made from an entry-level kit. When I found it again it was over six years old. I opened it, intending to find out if it had spoiled in any kind of novel way, and maybe analyze it in the lab for flaws.
It was one the most delicious wines I've ever tasted. In the cool dark of my cellar it grew into a wine of lean, racy acidity, zesty fruit and endless aromas of blossoms. Lab schmab, I drank it all with lunch and took a nap.
A Long Heritage of Unaged Wine
But this isn't about aging wine, it's about drinking it young. People have been drinking extremely young wine all throughout human history. In fact, it wasn’t until the invention of glass bottles and cork stoppers that it was possible to consistently age wine. Up until then containers like barrels, clay jugs, or poorly cured hides of a large animal (I wish I was joking) were simply places to put wine until you drank it, not places for it to attain any potential.
If you attended Sunday school you may remember the story of Roman soldiers giving Jesus vinegar to drink at Calvary. This sounds like a punishment, until you realize that the soldiers were drinking it themselves: their wine ration would have gone sour from oxidation and infection only a few weeks or months after harvest, and they just put up with it like everyone else at the time.
Which Kit Type
You're going to get the best results from the best kit, every time, so Master Vintner's Sommelier Select™ is going to taste better at any stage of development. But there's something to consider: when SS™ is fully aged, it's going to be spectacular. As soon as you taste a two or three year old bottle you'll know immediately where the extra money in that kit went.
On the other hand (and there always is one) it seems a shame to let that potential go to waste, especially if you're in a bind and need three batches of wine for a wedding in less than two months. Master Vintner's Winemakers Reserve™ is going to be pretty good that young, and since it will never see three years much less three months, you could save that cash (and make an extra batch, of course).
If you need wine on only four weeks notice, Master Vintner's Weekday Wine™ should be your go-to. All wines have one foot in a sack on bottling day (which is where four weeks gets you), but WW™ is the low-key Matthew McConaughey of wine: whatever you throw at it, it's 'All right, all right, all right' and is happy to be there. Sommelier Select will still taste better, but not as smooth or as drinkable—that's because by design they're delicious, fruity and easy to enjoy at all stages.
First, if you have a choice of color, go with white. Without the firm tannins of a red, whites are more easily approachable in youth, and even more so if they're on the fruity end of the spectrum, like Riesling, Moscato or Pinot Grigio.
If you need red, seek the lighter reds with more fruit and less tannin. Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Carménère are all smoothly drinkable and lush. An Old Vines Cabernet will age out to gorgeous power and long, rich finishes, but it's going to be a real palate-bruiser until it's had a chance to knit up—skip it, and most of the other grapeskin kits for young drinking.
The (Two) Secret(s) to Making Young Wine Drinkable Sooner
One of the things that happens to wine over medium-term aging is that extremely fine particles settle out. They're so fine that the wine can appear almost entirely clear on bottling day, but they're in suspension and they will obscure the true, clear character of the wine.
You can skip around this by using a filter on your wine. Filters remove these extremely fine particles and not only make the wine perceptibly clearer and 'diamond bright', but also help refine the flavor and reveal more of the wine's character. It is an extra step, but once you've filtered a batch of wine you'll love the way it polishes up and pops out of the glass.
The second secret is to sweeten things up. A tiny amount of Residual Sugar can smooth all of the rough edges from a young wine and make it taste 'more-ish' right out of the gate. This works even with red wines. You can grab a some Wine conditioner, which is a solution of invert sugar that (when used correctly) won't cause refermentation in the bottle. Follow the instructions, and if you're not sure about sweetening the wine, start by doing a quick trial: pull off a quart of wine and add the minimum dose (it's 1/2 ounce per quart, or 15 ml/litre). If it seems like it's the right way to go, you can dose the whole batch, or you can try a little more to see if it improves further. Don't exceed the 4 ounce/gallon mark or you could have some sediment show up in the wine.
The Secret Weapon
There's one tiny thing I left out: if you are absolutely jammed, and need wine in less than four weeks, you can still turn out a batch, and it will taste fabulous. Master Vintner Tropical Bliss™ fruit wine kits are almost always ready in just over three weeks. With a blend of fruit juices and varietal wine, they taste like a party right out of the carboy, and they go great with any occasion.
Of course, you'll need to put on a batch of that Old Vine Cabernet so that you have something to look forward to after all that Tropical Bliss is gone!