Wine 101: When Should Wine Be Cellared?

By Kendall-Jackson 
In: Wine 101

So you just spent a few dollars on a nice bottle of wine. Like a lot of people, you’re wondering whether to drink it now or lay it down in a cellar. The question you’re getting at is whether or not the wine will get better with bottle age; that’s an excellent question.

As with most things in the wine world, the answer is both simple and complex. The majority of wines from California and, in fact, throughout the world are crafted to be enjoyed within a year or two of bottling, when the fruit-forward flavors and aromas are fresh and youthful.

Some wines, however, are crafted with the intention of additional bottle age, and will not reach their full expression until they have achieved some time in bottle. Wines with the longest aging potential are those with the highest amount of acidity, which acts as a preservative.

Before we start making decisions on whether to pop that cork or not, let’s talk about what happens to a wine as it is aged in bottle. After being bottled and sealed, complex chemical reactions between the wine’s sugars, acids and phenolic compounds (like tannins) begin to alter to aromas, color and mouthfeel of the wine.

That’s all well and good, but chemical reactions aside, what happens when you lay a bottle down to age for a few years?

As wine ages you can expect quite a few things to happen:

  • The color will change or fade
  • Aromas will evolve from the fruit and oak of youth to a far more complex leather and earth-filled nose
  • Tannins will soften and round
  • Acidity will soften

So which wines are the best candidates? In general, Pinot Noir or Sangiovese are good bets; varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bebbiolo and Syrah are good options too, because they have a firm structure with high acidity.

For instance, a young high-end Red Bordeaux release may offer a mouthful of tannin and acid in youth, but give it a few years in bottle and the aggressive tannins will be tamed and a beautiful bouquet of cedar and black currants will emerge.

The Critical Factor: Available Storage Conditions

When storing wine – from six weeks to six years – it is essential that you provide the right storage conditions. In short, wines need nice steady cool temperatures, no light or vibration and proper humidity. If you can’t find a storage space that meets this basic criterion, choose wines ready to be enjoyed upon release and go ahead and pop that cork. The wine will inevitably taste better now.