Consumer studies show that most wine purchased in the United States is consumed within weeks after purchase, and that less than 10% of wines purchased are squirreled away for aging. Indeed, most wines are intended to be consumed young, but with a little bit of patience, maturation opens a whole new dimension of enjoyment for wine lovers. Among the best candidates for cellaring are quality German wines.
The best examples of German wine—particularly varieties like Riesling, Sylvaner and Pinot Noir, but also Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Scheurebe, too—tend to age better than most due to their low pH and high levels of acidity. A broad mix of flavor compounds and phenolics as well as fermentation and maturation in traditional oak casks all contribute to age-worthiness.
Opened young, German wines are often exuberantly perfumed and concentrated—a glorious explosion of fresh fruit and flowers. With age, these primary characteristics start to recede, often exposing a textural richness, smokiness or yeastiness attributed to fermentation or maturation in oak. With extended bottle aging, fresh fruit gives way to preserved, baked or dried fruit and hints of earth, minerality, leather or mushroom.
Riesling, whether sweet or dry, is singular in its ability to show well at each stage of its maturation. When young, it is thrilling and electric, a showstopping blast of peach, apple and grapefruit flavors bolstered by sprays of orange blossom and spine-tingling acidity. With age, its fruit profile seems to caramelize and honey, shifting its center of gravity from feather-light to something richer and unctuous. While acidity levels remain constant, the perception of it softens in time. For wines with residual sugar, the perception of sweetness also lessens as the sugar molecules polymerize.
Across the varietal spread, there’s magic to be found in mature, high-quality German wines.