With time, wine evolves and develops a different color, nose, and taste than when it was bottled. This is the allure of aging wine: holding on to it to see how it transforms; seeing it as a measure of time; and the role of wine as a souvenir of a particular year. Collectors pay considerable sums at auction for rare wines that have been aged for many decades.
But not all wines need to or should be aged. A light-bodied white wine like an Italian Pinot Grigio is made to be consumed within two to three years. If one waited ten years to open a Pinot Grigio, they would find the fruit faded, the flowery aroma dissipated, and little of its initial charm intact. White wines that can be aged are Chardonnay (3-5 years), Roussane (3-7 years), and whites from Burgundy like French Chardonnays (10-15 years).
On the other end of the spectrum, full-bodied red wines with plenty of tannins will definitely benefit from longer cellaring. The great reds from Barolo in Italy or Bordeaux in France are good examples. Barolos tend to mature and reach their peak after 10 years when the tannins have mellowed and thus more enjoyable. Red Bordeaux blends can age for a couple of decades when the conditions are right. But some reds, such as Pinot Noir, do not need much aging. Pinot Noir promises good acidity, a fragrant nose and sour cherry/cherry taste, all of which will eventually fade so it is better to not wait too long before drinking this variety.
Always age wine in a dark, vibration-free environment with a constant temperature between 55 and 60. A wine refrigerator is recommended, and a temperature-controlled cellar is even better. Your basement might also be adequate provided its humidity and temperature remain constant. (Of course, storing your wine next to the boiler is clearly a bad idea.) A digital thermometer that also reads humidity will cut out the guesswork.
Cork closures are better for aging than screwcaps as they allow a minute amount of oxygen to enter the bottle, which matures the wine. Just don’t assume screwcaps indicates a “cheap” wine. Screwcaps are for wines best enjoyed on the younger side that don’t need much cellaring. For example, the Andrew Murray Syrah “Tous les Jours” from Santa Inez Valley in California has a screwcap. “Tous les Jours” in French means “every day,” thus this is his everyday wine. However, his rare single vineyard wines are bottled using a cork since they will age very nicely.
Cost can be a factor in the aging potential, though. A $20 bottle of wine will be crafted to be enjoyed younger than a $60 bottle of wine. The cost is often associated with the ageing potential so drink your every day wines while your “vin de garde” (wines that you keep or age) are improving.
New world wines tend to be enjoyed younger when compared to wines from Europe, the old world of tannin-heavy wine. Enjoy drinking California Cabernet Sauvignon while letting Bordeaux age. Note that Spanish wines from Rioja are in a special category of their own as they have already been aged. A Reserva wine from Rioja is required to have been aged at the winery for at least 1 year in the barrel and at least 2 years in the bottle. A Gran Reserva is already aged by at least 5 years by the time it reaches our shores.
Even a few months of extra aging can make a big difference. We always offer wines with 6 months or 1 year more aging than the current release. I remember last year’s 2016 Damilano Barbera d’Asti, a great red from Piedmont in Italy that was absolutely stunning after 6 more months in the bottle.
Of course this is not an exact science so these are basic guidelines. Let price be your guide in revealing whether a wine should be enjoyed as soon as possible or cellared for future years.
Thierry Pradines is the proprietor of Best Wine Purveyors, a destination retail wine and spirits store in Pleasantville, New York. The curated store offers free tastings from its tasting bar, weekly educational wine seminars, regular special events, sterling expertise, and a first-rate client experience.
For more questions, please reach out to Thierry Pradines at email@example.com or 914-579-2280