Alcohol & age ability of red wine & white wine

You mention this in the thread about the wine in regard to the rose.

I get that higher alc is bad for age in reds, but how does it affect whites and roses?

Also, is there a tipping point, or are the effects linear?

That’s a very good question, and I don’t know. I’ve got a decent understanding of why alcohol makes colloids unstable, and we also see that the same red aged at different alcohols develops oxidized aromas more readily the higher the alcohol.

I am guessing that there’s something about the lower dialectric constant of higher alcohol that promotes oxidation, but I’m not a good enough electrochemist to go much further. It sure seems like lower alcohol whites and roses do very well in the cellar, the classic being those 8% Mosels that last 30 years with nothing going for them but grace.

This sure seems like an area where more folks could chime in with their own experiences. Right now we got 1100 views going but only 27 comments and half those are mine. I sure hope this isn’t how it goes around here. Anybody out there with a view on this question?

This particular question has been chewed into a VERY dead parrot here many times, people want to know what YOU (an expert) think…

Ah. Thanks. Well, I think alcohol screws up aging. But there’s another thing that’s a little more “out there” that I also suspect. Wines with harmony age well. Unlike balance, harmony is not linear. Blending can find “sweet spots” where wines come together somehow and taste harmonious. When we do alcohol trials, we find such spots, and people agree where they are. Harmonized wines seem to hold together well in the cellar, even when they’re pretty high in alcohol.

I think Helen Turley is a master of such wines, and that’s why she’s so successful - not because she goes for long hangtime, but because she knows how to get away with it.


Any idea why?


Here is the problem: You haven’t pissed anyone off… yet. Once that happens, then we all sit back and [popcorn.gif].

Seriously… Should we post something in Cellar Rats to see if people don’t know you are here?

Perhaps your Postmodern Winemaking ideas are old news?

I’m not sure I buy the premise. Technically - how does high alcohol hurt the aging process? You hint at it above but numbers, studies, facts - please add them. (Sorry - haven’t read the book.)

Also - how do other components such as tannins modify the results? Are higher tannins better with higher alcohol? What about acid? Etc. etc.

Edit to add:
I used to be a believer, (that higher alcohol was bad for aging) but recently I’ve had some rather high alcohol Aussie wines that have been absolutely stunning and I believe will be even better with age. They were so good I wish I could taste them now ten-twenty years down the line.

I’m not real strong on this one either. There’s port, for example, but I think when you add sugar, the sensory game changes a lot, so let’s restrict to dry wines. In the narrow range of dry red table wines, I have seen enough compelling evidence that higher alcohol wines dry out and oxidize faster that identical reds that I am fairly convinced that this is a reliable tend, though I too have seen exceptions - harmonious wines that hung in there well at quite high levels.

That said, I have no idea what harmony is. Like pornography, I know it when I see it, and as with music, the sense is strongly shared among individuals. There we know a good deal more about how harmony works in terms of measuring overtones. I’m nowhere near o coherent theory of harmony in wine, but I’m convinced that there is cheese down that hole.

As for numbers, the driving force of water is measured as a dialectric constant of 80. 15% alcohol has a dialectric constant of about 20, one fourth the driving force that stabilizes apolar colloids such as we find in red wine.

I have a call in to a chemist friend to see if he can propose any link between aqueous polarity and oxidation, but for now, I can just observe that the difference between dark malt and light malt is not that dark malt is roasted at a higher temperature, but rather at a higher water activity. Without water, grain doesn’t oxidize, so maybe something like that operates in wine.

Thanks for the quick answer! I totally buy that sugar changes the game, (at least empirically) Sauternes, Port etc. I just wish I knew the chemistry behind all of this. Note: I’ve also had aged high alcohol wines that were a mess. It’s an odd and fascinating subject!


Didn’t you describe a test for tannins that uses an increase in alc. to destabilize the tannin? Or do I have that wrong?

Yes, that’s how we know for sure that alcohol destabilizes colloids. A particular type of colloid which occurs early on and is composed entirely of monomeric anthocyanins and cofactors in a 50:50 ratio does not exist at 20% alcohol. We measure its presence by difference when we add alcohol.

This seemed more straightforward in the book. I thought I took from it that that both excessive alcohol and poor tannin/pigment structure both covaried as a function of excessive hang time. In that view, high alcohol wines would age faster because of their tannins’ diminished capacity to resist oxidation rather than because of alcohol per se. The view of alcohol itself causing wine to fall apart seems to require explaining of why dry wines behave so differently from every other alcoholic beverage, not just port.

Yes, good point. Spirits have no colloids. Craft beers, however, are quite similar to wine in having big structural features, but they are composed primarily of polysaccharides, which are not apolar, so you don’t get the two-phase aromatic integration and stability effects. Dry ciders have tannin structure, and are very similar to structured white wines such as Champagne and Muscadet-sur-lies.