I am often asked – “How long will this bottle last? Will it get better with age?” You may be surprised by how many wines sold today should be opened right away.
Nearly all wines (95% or more) should be drunk within two years of the vintage date. Most vintner’s will not release a wine until it is ready to drink. Could it get better with age? Maybe; you can drink it now or hold on to it longer if you like. Keep these very general guidelines in mind when cellaring wine.
Where do you start?
Most wines worth cellaring are premium wines and will cost you at least $30. Keep in mind not all expensive wines are worth cellaring. It’s important to do your research first. Specialty wine shops will be able to tell you which wines are worth keeping as they have direct access to distributors and vineyards. Check out your favorite wine magazine’s websites for information on cellar worthy wines.
You don’t want to waste space cellaring a wine that you have not tried. Find a wine that is so good you know you will keep coming back to it. This is a wine you need to buy by the case. Remember, buying by the case will save you money!
As a general rule of thumb: heavier red wines such as old world Merlot, Malbec, Grenache and Cabernet offer a longer lifespan than lighter red & white wines.
Location of the vineyard can sometimes be a good indicator. Look for wines that are grown in cooler climates (higher elevations) such as Northern Europe, Chile, Washington & Oregon.
Structural elements of age worthy wines include:
Reds – moderate to high acidity (but low volatile acidity), moderate to high tannins & a moderate alcohol level 12-14%.
White – high acidity, low to moderate alcohol level & moderate phenolic bitterness (google this term to impress your friends!).
Try placing a tag on your bottles; list the vintage and a “drink by” date.Try a bottle every 6-12 months to see how it is evolving. This step is very important and where the fun lies in cellaring wines. If you’d like, you can keep notes on how the wine is changing over time.
Store wine away from sunlight between 52 and 64 degrees. Keeping your wine lower than 52 degrees for an extended amount of time will stop the evolution. Keeping the wine above 64 degrees will speed it up.
Don’t ignore the wine for too long. It does have a shelf life. If you don’t taste a bottle every so often you may end up wasting a case of great wine and that is tragic!
Please keep in mind that there are always exceptions to rules in wine – ALWAYS. This is just a starting point for those who are interested in building a wine collection. If you are ever in doubt – drink it now!