“To Cellar or Not to Cellar….That is the Question”
Try tasting a wine that is allowed to age
properly and you will experience the results of some
remarkable changes. The simple fruit and floral aromas of
the young wine are transformed into complex, earthy
bouquets. Red wines can take on qualities of wet earth,
leather, cedar and tobacco and develop soft silky yet
structured tannins. Chardonnay or Rieslings can evolve
minerality or mouth filling richness.
Do all wines age gracefully? The simple answer is no!
Qualities that make for an age-worthy wine start with
intensity of fruit extracts that can hold up in the bottle
over time. Other important factors such as acidity,
tannins, sugars and alcohol can play key roles as
preservatives that slow the natural oxidation of the wine
in the bottle. Finally, properly stored conditions are
required – cool temperature (around 57 F), low light, and,
most of all, a moist, slightly permeable cork.
The Test of Time
In order for a wine to show marked improvement and
complexity through aging, it must start out with the
correct properties. Most wines do not have these
properties and are made to be consumed in a short period
following bottling and distribution – usually within the
eight hours after purchase. But, even these wines may
benefit from a short period of bottle aging so that the
shock of bottling and vibrations during shipment can work
their way out. Usually, these are lighter bodied white or
red wines that demand fresh crispness, a fruit-driven
flavors or just a little softening of the initial tannins
for maximum enjoyment.
Wines meant to be drunk young include dry, fruity new-
world style wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked
Chardonnay, fruit-driven red wines like Aussie Merlot and
Shiraz, or lighter Sangioveses, and Spanish Rioja (Crianzas).
There are many wines such as the more heavily
oaked reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and
even oaked Chardonnay, and good vintages of German
Riesling, and the wines from the best Chenin Blanc
producers in the Loire Valley of France that benefit
greatly from bottle aging. Other obvious choices for aging
are fortified or concentrated wines (e.g. Vintage Port,
Maderia, Sauterne, Ice Wines).
The Process of Aging
As wines age, many of their characteristics change….
both red and white wines tend to darken and even derive
a slight to significant brownish tinge. This is natural
and is a visual cue that you have a well aged, old wine,
or that you have a problem if it occurs in a young wine.
Red wines will particularly take on a dark sediment,
and some white wines can form white tartaric acid
crystals. This is to be expected and requires care when
handling and pouring so as not to transfer particulates into
the wineglass. Decanting may be imployed, but take care to
decant and serve the wine quickly as an aged wine can
lose its favors more rapidly than a young wine.
As mentioned before, one of the most noticable changes in
an aged wine is the flavor profile. Strong fruit aroma
and flavors evolve and meld with other non-fruit qualities
normally referred to as the wine’s aged bouquet. Harsh
young tannins and brisk acitity are transformed into a
softer, silky and more balanced character.
If you want to start aging wine, you can go low or high
end. For starters, just find a cool, dark place –
preferably not in the kitchen (too hot) and not in direct
sunlight. A windowless closet on the lowest floor of your
house and not on an outside wall will be best. For short
term aging – 1 to 3 years this will usually work just
fine particularly if you can get a place with an average
temperature less than 70 F.
The next level up is to get a small to large wine cooler
unit. These come in various sizes that can hold from 20
to 500 bottles. One word of wisdom is to get one larger
than you initially expect to need (maybe hold up to two
times the number of bottles you think you will need).
Most people find out that they like the aged qualities of
wine and acquire more wine than originally expected.
Another important factoid, putting a cooler in a garage
especially in a hot climate is not a good idea. Most
coolers do not have the capacity to handle the heat and
will break down just after the warranty ends. (Been there,
You can also go big scale and actually put in a wine
cellar. This is a major investment and requires having
some space (not necessarily in a basement) that can be
converted. Companies will design and install it or you
can buy the parts and do the installation yourself.
My recommendation is to drink most white wines within
three years after purchase and do the same with most red
wines within five years. Save longer term aging (5-10
years) for only the best and most substantial wines from
the best vintages and producers.
For Texans, looking to lay down a few of Texas’ finest,
I suggest the following:
3 to 5 years or longer
Becker Vineyards, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
5 to 10 years
Llano Esatacado, Viviano (Super Tuscan Blend – Cabernet/
Note: I just opened a bottle of this wine after 5 years
on Friday at a local family-run, Italian restaurant. It held
up nicely – still quite lively and fruit-filled. This wine
could easily could have aged another 3-5 years.
Fall Creek Vineyards, Meritus (Cabernet/Bordeaux Blend)
Many more age worthy Texas wines are available.
For further advice on aging specific wines, check the
vintage charts and aging recommendations from noted
experts. The following links provide examples:
Wine Enthusiast Vintage Chart:
Wine Spectator Home Page – Expert advice for aging (well worth
subscribing to get full access to their complete listings):
Your Voice: Respond with your wine aging questions.