A vast majority of wine sold is meant to be consumed sooner rather than later. Many wine makers produce wine with that in mind; the sooner you drink the wine and enjoy it, the sooner they can sell you more! There is, however, plenty of wine that will benefit with additional time in the bottle so long as it is treated correctly.
How does one determine if they should age their wine? There are a few ways to determine if a wine should be aged and for how long. Age tends to soften tannins and acidity. If during a wine tasting, you determine a wine has high tannins (dryness) or acid (identifiable by tartness or a lighter red color to the wine), some aging will serve the wine well. It will help to balance the wine.
Alcohol content and sugar can also play a role on the extent a wine should be aged. Alcohol is produced when yeast converts sugar in the grape juice to alcohol. Wines with higher alcohol content are generally less sweet. In like manner, higher alcohol content wines do not age as well as wines high in sugar. If your wine bottle has an ABV much higher than 14% it probably isn’t a good bottle to age.
The region a wine comes from and the grape that the wine is made with are also indicators I generally use to determine if a wine should be aged and for how long. Old world wines generally age better than American wines. American West Coast wines tend to diminish in quality past ten years of aging while many French and Italian wines hold up well beyond that. Additionally red wines are usually better suited for aging than white, but not always.
I often receive recommendations for wine from either a friend or someone in the wine industry. In these cases, I’ll use reviews as a source for determining whether a wine should be aged as I buy the wine from a retailer or over the internet without tasting.
Sometimes I age wine for reasons that don’t have much to do with the above. I have a few bottles in my cellar that I have been holding to enjoy on a special occasion. I have a couple bottles of Brunello di Montalcino that my wife and I purchased on our honeymoon. There are a few bottles from our first trip to Napa, and there are a few bottles that we purchased in the Katsunuma wine region in Japan. I’m saving them simply to relive the moments at a future time.
Certain conditions contribute to aging wine properly. You should keep your wine in a cool dark place. Heat, extreme cold, temperature fluctuation, and light will ruin your wine. A wine that has aged too long or improperly will start to taste like vinegar. It’s also important that you rotate your wine bottles a quarter turn every 3 months or so. A wine gets “corked” when the cork becomes old and dry. When this happens air and bacteria will get into the bottle and ruin it. A corked wine will smell and taste like a damp basement.
If you are still on the fence whether to age a bottle or drink it now, keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for a wine bottle to have already sat on a shelf or in a warehouse for months or years prior to purchasing. Additionally, if you buy a “corked” bottle of wine, a retailer or winery is more likely to accept a return or exchange soon after its purchase but less likely to do so years later. So, in case you needed an excuse, there is no better time to have a glass than right now.