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:

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. 

Read in more depth how long different wines can be kept 


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Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers.

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