Not all wines are produced to be aged, in fact, around 90% of wine is designed to be consumed within a couple of years after being produced. Waiting too long to drink a wine could result in it deteriorating and losing the qualities that make it so enjoyable now.
That said, some wines will reward you with time spent ageing and proper cellaring, that is if you can resist opening them now.
What happens to wine when it ages?
Wine is a living thing that changes with time in the bottle:
- Over time flavours, aromas and colours change
- In general, wines gain complexity and lose fruitiness as they age
- Red wines become lighter in colour and white wines become darker in colour
- Powerful fruity flavours change and mix with subtler savoury flavours
- Acid and tannin levels fall away, become softer and more mellow
What factors should you consider when looking to age wine:
- Acidity - as a wine ages, it slowly loses its acid, therefore, wines with higher acidity tend to last longer
- Tannins - tannins come from contact to the seeds and skins of the grapes during wine making and also from oak ageing. A wine that has well balanced tannins (balance between the grape tannin and oak tannin) will improve with age.
- Alcohol level - generally speaking, a wine with a lower alcohol level (around 13.5%) will last longer. This is because alcohol is volatile in wine and causes it to turn to vinegar more quickly. Fortified wines are an exception to this.
- Residual sugar - sweet wines including Port, Sherry, Sauternes, and Riesling will age longer due to their high level of residual sugar
- Cellaring – how the wine is stored will influence how it will age. Read more about storing wine here
Ageing Red wines:
- Red wines with high tannins generally age well.
- Red wines that have a higher acidity and lower pH will generally age well. A low pH acts as a buffer against chemical changes that break down wine including oxidation.
- Heavy Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot will generally have a longer lifespan than lighter reds.
Ageing white wines:
- White wines with higher acidity are more resistant to chemical changes that occur with age so will age better than low acidic wine.
- Semillon and Riesling have a much longer ageing life than chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
- White wines will darken as they age. If an aged white wine has turned yellowish-brown then it has aged for too long.
- Desert wines can be kept many years and will increase in depth and complexity while ageing.