When talking about wine it is always best to talk of it in the plural. To say that white wine has certain characteristics as compared to red wine is fine when it comes to the color, the taste and the immediate olfactory sensation since every wine has its own aspects and differentiating them to a certain degree can be easily done, but then you must go into more depth. A Tuscan Vermentino for example is very different from a Sardinian Vermentino, just as a Traminer has a very different taste palate than that of a Greco di Tufo from Campania. There are certain characteristics that don’t go unnoticed. White wine for example is never really suitable for long periods of aging, or better, there are many white wines that should be drunk when they are young, and certain that can age slightly. So can white wine age?
Let’s start from the base of the wine pyramid. White wines are better suited for consumption when they are young in age, not more than 2 years old, when they are in an early oxidation phase. The chemical particles known as phenols (catechins and leucoantociani) in white wine are more sensitive when they are in contact with air. White wines have a rapid oxidation process which gives the wine unsavory characteristics such as tastes of rotten apple, vinegar, glue and even soap. There are other phenols such as phenylacetaldehyde and aminoacetophenone that with aging give the wine aromas of dried flowers and sometimes moth balls. Even the color of the white wine will radically change with aging from a classic straw yellow to an orange rust color. These wines have no place for your palate and need only to be put directly into the trash.
It’s best to talk about the norms of white wines, as well as the rare exceptions. There are some white wines which can age just as red wines can. These wines go through a different production process when it comes to how they are fermented by the winemaker and producer. A white wine which lends itself to a long aging starts at the vineyard itself – rows of volcanic soil rich in mineral content. Once harvested, and the grapes arrive to the wine cellar in perfect condition, they then go through a soft pressing, perfect so as not to release too many of the catechins and leuantociani phenols which are the main culprits of oxidation in white wine. Winemakers must also be very careful during the fermentation process to ensure that white wines are never placed in high temperatures so as not to stress the product too much. The most important component of the process when it comes to making a white wine suitable for aging is the yeast.
We’re going to have to use another buzzword here – polysaccharides. This is a protein in yeast which when in contact with fermented must, gives more stability, roundness and structure. When these proteins interact with the aromatic compounds of the grapes, make white wine less aggressive in taste for aging, and ideal for consumption. Whether the wine sustains the aging process from this point onwards is up to the consumer, and how they preserve their wine. If you keep a wine bottle exposed to sunlight on your kitchen shelf and exposed to indoor odors, your wine may have the correct fermented yeast components, but all the yeast in the world could not save a bottle that is not properly stored.