Cellaring wine, wine storage, and aging wine, are all terms used to describe keeping a wine until it matures. Cellaring wine and wine storage is a key element to keeping wine at its peak for your tasting pleasure. The proper temperatures and location are elements that are important.
The proper temperature helps a wine age. If you are cellaring wine it should be kept at a very level 55°F (13 °C) for it to age slowly. If the wine is kept at 70°F (21 °C) or higher, the wine will age too soon, and the flavors will be less complex and not as good. It’s important for the wine to be cellared properly to keep well and be drinkable.
Did you recently taste a wine that was cellared and enjoyed it? Or did you wonder if it was properly stored or should have aged longer? Most of us buy a bottle of wine to be uncorked and served with dinner the same evening. For the majority of wine that is perfectly fine. Many of the varieties in our local wine shops do not benefit from aging. A simple rule of thumb is if a bottle is less than $25 it doesn’t need aging.
Did You Know?
The top one percent of all wine made has the ability to improve for a decade or two, and in some cases even longer
Wines that age well
The general consensus among the average wine drinker is that they buy wine to drink it with their next meal. Cellaring wine is usually not the first thought when they are buying a wine for dinner that night.
High quality wines benefit from aging, as do certain varieties of wine from some of the well-known regions. A few regions producing age-worthy wines: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Sauternes, Italy, Germany, California and Australia.
Many wine experts will recommend a specific year to drink a wine that age-worthy. There are also vintage charts that suggest when certain wines are ready to drink or how long the wine should be held (stored or cellared).
These recommendations are an educated guess as to when a particular wine will be in perfect balance (when all the chemical compounds work together to balance the fruit, acidity, and tannins). But you might like to drink a wine when it has strong tannins, or high levels of acidity.
Here is where the answer would be your personal preference – if you like the wine then enjoy it at the time. You have the option of storing a few bottles of that particular wine for a special occasion in the future and you may just love the balance of flavors when that occasion arises.
Aging wine for your pleasure
Those so-called experts may know when a wine has reached its peak, but you know what you like. That’s why you taste it and enjoy it. It is up to you to decide whether or not to cellar it.
Aging wine is a series of chemical changes that can be quite complex. During the aging process, the tannins react with other components and at some point become sediment. While this is happening, the aromas of the grape are reduced, and at the same time the color of the wine changes.
3 Components needed to age wine:
To put it simply, the wine becomes smooth, the oak blends in, the tannin becomes softer or even silky, and the strong fruitiness fades. The flavors and aromas change. The fruit gives way to earthiness, richness, and more complex flavors.
The tannin in red wine comes from the grape skins and seeds. In white wine the tannin comes from being aged in oak. The tannins from oak in the white wine are more astringent or mouth drying.
The grape tannins are more subtle, but strong. For aging purposes, the grape tannins are better than oak and that is why the thick skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape tends to make a wine with better aging potential.
Acidity in wine comes from the grape itself, as does the fruit. Acidity can be balanced in the winemaking process; the best vintages have a perfect balance of tannin, acidity and fruit in the grape itself.
The results of aging
Most wines that age well spend a considerable time in oak barrels. This is an expensive proposition which is why age worthy wines are the more expensive wines. Aged red wine has softer tannins, and will have more complex flavors. The color will become lighter with age.
Aged white wine will become more complex with subtle flavors of caramel and less fruit flavors. As the white wine ages the color will darken to a more golden color.
Guidelines for age-worthy wines:
- Cabernet Sauvignon ages best
- Pinot Noir ages surprisingly well (fickle as it is to grow)
- Chardonnay (must be oaked) ages, but needs a few years to even out
- Merlot needs a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend to age well
- Syrah rarely ages except those produced in the Rhone regions
- Riesling – German Spatlese, Auslese and Alsace Grand Cru Riesling will benefit from 10 – 15 years of aging.
So, how do you tell if your wine is ready to drink?
The best approach is to buy multiple bottles of the wine you wish to age. When they reach the most likely age of ‘drinkability,’ try a bottle.
Depending on the results, either drink the other bottles or set a date in the future to try the next bottle. This approach will help you get to the point that you will know how wines develop and soon you will be able to judge for yourself how much longer a wine may need.
Open a bottle, taste the wine and enjoy!