The myth that old wine is better than wine is persistent. But the truth of the matter is that only 1% of the wine produced in the world today is suitable for long-term cellaring. Most wines are meant to be drunk within a few years–or “young” in the nomenclature of wine connoisseurs.
How young is young? Here is a quick guide on how long you can expect to store some of the most popular.
varieties before they turn to vinegar:
- Cabernet Sauvignon–7-10 years
- Pinot Noir–5 years
- Merlot–3-5 years
- Zinfandel–2-5 years
- Beaujolais–Drink when purchased
- Chardonnay–2-3 years
- Sauvignon Blanc–18 mos -2 years
- Pinot Gris–1-2 years
- Champagne–Ready to drink
You’ll notice that on the whole red wines can be stored longer than white wines. This is because red wine has more tannins than white wine. Tannins come from grape skins and grape seeds and create the dry or bitter taste often associated with red wines. When aged properly, those tannins precipitate out of the liquid, creating sediment in the bottle and leaving a mellow, fruity wine for you to enjoy. Wine without enough tannins is called “flabby”.
How to Properly Store Wine
Whether you’re planning on storing a bottle of wine for a few weeks or a few years, it’s important to keep it in proper environmental conditions in order to preserve the perfect balance of flavors and aroma.
The ideal storage temperature for wine is 55°F, for red or white wine. Minor variations of a few degrees won’t make much difference, but keep in mind that the rate of chemical reactions in wine doubles with each 18-degree fluctuation in the temperature. The warmer your wine, the faster it will age.
Store corked bottles on their sides, to keep the cork from drying out and letting air into the bottle. Keeping the humidity between 60% and 75% will help preserve the cork as well. When wine is exposed to oxygen, it changes in both appearance and taste. Red wine goes from a deep purplish red to orange, to brown; white wine loses the green tint of new wine to a more opaque gold-brown. Too much oxidation and the taste becomes flat, more like vinegar than proper fruity wine.
Keep bottles out of direct sunlight, as UV rays introduce free radicals into the wine, and makes it age faster. Avoid excess vibrations from motors, etc. Too much vibration can reintegrate the sediments back into the wine. Even low levels of constant vibration will alter the chemical composition and lead to premature aging. That’s why thermoelectric wine coolers are preferable for long-term storage since vibration is non-existent.
Keep wine separate from foods with strong odors that might contaminate the flavor of the wine.
If you can’t afford a wine cellar, then a thermoelectric wine cooler is an excellent choice for preserving your wine collection. A traditional refrigerator running on a compressor dries the air as it cools, putting your wine at risk. Compact and affordable units like the NewAir AW-280E 28 bottle wine cooler require no installation and they’re easy to operate. They run quietly and without vibration, feature UV-protected glass doors and maintain a consistent temperature to keep your wine at its peak.
How to Age Wine Properly
While most wines can’t be stored more than a few years, there are a few out there worth cellaring–keeping in long-term storage for 10, 20, or even 50 years or more. If you’re interested in collecting and aging wines, here’s a rundown of what you should be looking for.
To age properly, a bottle of wine must have the right balance of tannins, acidity, and sugar. It can be difficult to predict whether any given vintage is going to age well, so take the time to educate yourself about the conditions that favor the production of well-aged wines, or consult with a trusted expert for recommendations.
The major factors to consider are:
•the weather in any particular growing season
•the types of grapes
Grapes that are grown in a dry climate tend to have thicker skins and less water. They also have a higher ratio of sugar, acids, and tannins that increases their potential for aging. In addition, the longer grapes ripen on the vine, the lower their acidity – and higher acidity favors better aging.
That’s why European wines (which have a shorter growing season) tend to age better than Australian or US wines.
You will also need to consider the methods used by the vintners during production, such as how long grapes are pressed, whether aging is done in oak barrels(which adds tannins to the grape juice), and whether or not acids are added during the fermentation process.
Because it is a lot of information to sort out, but here are some wines that are generally more inclined to withstand long aging:
Reds – Most red wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.
Whites– Chenin blanc, Riesling and Semillon (Sauvignon Blanc).
Whichever wines you choose for long-term cellaring, make sure you are prepared to store them properly for the duration. Nothing is more disappointing than waiting 20 years to sample a treasured bottle, only to discover it’s turned into vinegar in the intervening years!