Which Wines Are Meant to Age?

Which Wines Are Meant to Age?

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Row of barrels in a cellaring cave.

How many times have you heard the saying that all wines get better with age? The statement, taken as it’s often said, is a bit of a myth. The truth is that some wines get better with extended age. So how do you know which ones?

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to save a special bottle of wine. You may have recently gotten married and want to put a bottle into storage to open on your 10th anniversary. Or you just had a baby, and you want to store a great wine to share on their 21st birthday. Maybe you know you’re going to retire in 15 years, so you want to have an excellent aged wine to celebrate the occasion.

Whatever your reason, you'll want to find a wine that will truly improve over time. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of the best age-friendly wines that allow them to last through the aging process and come out on the other side better than before.

Acidity

The more acidity a wine has, the longer it’s likely to last. This is because wines tend to slowly lose their acid over time, causing them to flatten out. A wine that starts with a lower acidity doesn’t have the same protection against chemical changes that break it down, including oxidation. As a result, it likely won’t age well in storage.

Tannins

The tannins in wine act as structural components, stabilizing characteristics such as color and flavor. They come from the grape skins and—if the wine is oak-aged—the wood from the barrels.

For the most part, wines with more tannins last longer. Wines with more balanced tannins—referring to the balance between tannins from grape skins and those from oak barrels—generally become smoother over time. If the wine is unbalanced to begin with, however, it will never age well.

Sugar

Many people tend to overlook a wine’s sugar content, as they prefer to age drier red or white wines. At higher levels, sugar acts similar to a preservative. As such, a sweeter wine is likely to last much longer than one with less sugar. Many dessert wines, which are much higher in sugar than drier varieties, can last up to 25 or even 50 years. Some of the wines that last the longest include Sherry, Port, Tokay Aszu, and Sauternes.

Alcohol Level

In non-fortified wines, alcohol is volatile. As such, higher-alcohol wines are likely to become vinegary very quickly. If you’re looking to age a non-fortified wine, those that age best have a lower alcohol content.

In fortified wines, however, the higher alcohol content acts as a stabilizer. The added spirits, which often leave fortified wines with alcohol content between 17% and 20%, allow the wine to last longer in storage.

How Long Can Different Wines Age?

All wines are different. They all have different acidity levels, tannins, levels of sweetness, and alcohol content. In general, dry red wines last a bit longer than dry whites. One of the main reasons for this is that red wines have more tannins. Most white wines don’t last longer than 10 years in storage, but there are exceptions.

When it comes to red wines, look beyond the tannins and ensure that the bottle you choose also has moderately high acidity. Even with sufficient tannins, too little acidity could lead the wine to become too flat over time.

With white wines, look for those that have more acidity and a touch of phenolic bitterness. This bitterness could come from slightly underripe grapes or longer contact with the skins during fermentation. These two factors allow the wine to age a little longer. Oaked wines, such as some Chardonnay varieties, often age the longest of all white wines because of the extra tannins from the barrel.

Dessert and fortified wines have the longest aging potential. Dessert wines have a much higher sugar content, which helps to preserve the bottle. The added spirits in fortified wines allow them to last even longer.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how long you might expect certain wines to age:

These are, of course, generalizations. For the optimal drinking window for any specific vintage wine you have in your cellar, reference professional critical reviews which often include the wine's aging potential.

Other Factors That Affect Aging

While their characteristics play a significant role in how long different wines can age, how you store the wine matters as well. For instance, if you store it with a natural cork upright, the cork can become dry. If this happens, air can get in, affecting the wine’s quality. Storing the bottle on its side helps to avoid this issue.

The temperature and humidity of the storage area matter, too. Too hot, and the wine ages more rapidly. Too cold, and it could freeze. Generally, the best temperature is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. As for humidity, it should be around 60% to 70% to keep the cork from drying out.

When it comes to these factors, consistency is key. Avoid fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels to ensure the best results. If you have a home wine cellar, this is typically your best bet.

Other factors that play a role in how long a wine will last in storage include:

  • Light: There should be little to none.
  • Clean airflow.
  • Movement: You should avoid any movement or vibration to allow sediment to settle.

Find the Perfect Wine to Age

Uncorking a special bottle of wine that you’ve been storing for years to share on a special occasion can make the celebration even more special. While it can take a bit of advanced planning, finding the right bottle to age will help to ensure that your future event is topped off with a wine that tastes divine.

JJ Buckley Fine Wines has wines for all of your special occasions. Whether you’re looking for a bottle to drink tomorrow or one to share 10 years from now, we have the perfect selection for you. If you’re not sure which wines to choose, allow our consultancy service to show you all that we have to offer.