Storing wine: which wines will improve with age?
Which wines will keep & for how long?
More than 95% of all wine produced is intended to be drunk young, within 1 to 2 years of bottling, so is at its peak when released for sale. If you prefer a fruitier wine style then you can safely stick to younger wines. But for those that appreciate more developed flavours some wine can be kept for longer and can improve with age in bottle.
Wine is not inert. The colour of wine will darken over time. The texture alters; the tannins in reds and in oaked whites soften and the wine becomes smoother. Aromas and flavours evolve during wine-making, fermentation and ageing be it in barrel or bottle. If you get chance to go to a vertical tasting - where one wine from different vintages is tasted - you will see how a wine can change over the years. There is a point however where wine will start to deteriorate and that point differs for every bottle of wine.
Which wines can be kept?
Unfortunately there is no easy way to know if a particular wine will keep; there are many factors that combine to make a wine age-worthy, for example the grape variety, the age of the vines, the 'terroir', vintage characteristics, whether the wine was fermented and / or aged in barrel or in stainless steel, degree of filtering, size of bottle (wine in smaller bottles ages more quickly than wine in larger bottles) etc.
But there are certain characteristics you can look for that can indicate that a wine will keep for longer. These are:
A wine produced in a cool climate region is likely to age better than one from a warm climate area. The latter might taste very fruity early on but lose its acidity becoming insipid or "flat" more quickly. Cool climate wines from a hot vintage can suffer the same problem so beware unusually hot vintages.
High or moderately high acidity
As touched upon above, acidity is key. Wines that are low in acidity are not as refreshing and as the acids reduce further the wine will taste "flat" so a wine that is low in acidity is unlikely to keep for long. A wine higher in acidity has a much better chance of survival - read our blog on acidity in wine for further information.
High or moderately high tannins
Red wines with higher tannins are likely to keep longer, although if a highly tannic wine is not well-made to start with, it is unlikely to improve with age - see my blog on what makes a good wine.
Certain grapes are naturally higher in tannins than others (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Dolcetto) but the level of tannins also depends on how long a wine has been in contact with the pips, the skins and the stems during wine-making. Tannins can seem harsh in younger wines but they soften over time and can result in sediment often found in the bottles of older wines. Some tannins also develop during oak-ageing. This is why some white wines which may have had no contact with the stems or skins may also keep for a while.
Moderate alcohol levelsIt is common knowledge that fortified wines with 17 - 20% ABV keep for many years. But for still wines the general rule is that lower alcohol wines will keep longer than wines above c. 13.5% ABV as oxidation occurs more quickly in higher alcohol wines.
Age-worthy wine also needs fruit flavours to balance the wine's acidity, alcohol and any tannins. Fruit flavours change over time and eventually disappear so a wine with little or one-dimensional fruit will not last as long as a wine full of intense and complex fruit flavours.
The sweeter the wine, generally the longer it will keep e.g. Sauternes.
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