Not All Wines Belong in the Cellar
The best types of wine to put in your cellar are age-worthy wines. In general, unless you own a restaurant, you should not store more than a year’s worth of wine in your cellar. The reason for this is simple, most wines (~95%) are ready-to-drink with a shelf-life of a couple of years at most. No matter what the storage conditions, unfortunately, buying ready-to-drink wine in bulk is not a money saving tactic unless you’re partial to spoiled wine. This is one of the things that make age-worthy wines so valuable, the ability to store more wine for longer periods of time and take advantage of bulk buying. But age-worthy or not, don’t expect wine kept in the cellar for a few years to increase in resale value unless it’s investment grade.
If you’re a budding wine investor you should know that less than 1% of all the wines worldwide are investment grade and Bordeaux makes up 80% of them. The name Bordeaux is synonymous with wine investment. Red Bordeaux has an established resale history and is still the primary investment medium. The reason for this is that it has a long history of improving with age. However, the research required to buy Bordeaux wine can be frustrating and time-consuming. See the link below for further details.
Types of Wine that Age Well
The best types of wine to age have the right chemical structure. High acid along with balanced alcohol levels of 12 to 13% ABV are important for dry white and red wines as well as sparkling wines (see below). Grape tannins are also very important, they act as antioxidants and give red wines a significant advantage over white wines in the aging department. But the most age-worthy dry white wines also receive some tannins from oak barrel aging. Then there are the sweet wines, once again high acid is important, but in this case alcohol level is all over the map. What they have in common is high residual sugar. The extra sugar that would have turned into too much alcohol in a dry wine, now acts as a preservative. Finally fortified wines, as the name implies alcohol is added usually in the form of brandy. At alcohol levels in excess of 17%, the alcohol now acts as a preservative. For more information on alcohol levels, carbohydrate and residual sugar content, as well as calories in various types of wine, see the link below.
Age-worthy wines are rare and in many places around the world that don’t have the right environmental conditions, a winemaker must make a concerted effort to create them. They will use methods like planting vines in the coolest areas of the vineyard and oak barrel aging to increase a wine’s longevity. This means that a wine producer has to want to invest the time and money in the venture and know what they’re doing. As such, age-worthy wines tend to be produced by top-level wineries with a long history of making such wines. This means age-worthy wines also tend to be more expensive than the average wine.
The reverse, however, is not true. Not all top-level wineries produce age-worthy wines. For example, some top-level wineries produce organic / biodynamic wines. Because organic wines do not use certain additives, the winemaking process is different, and so is the wine’s development and chemical structure compared to normal wine. The result is a wine that does not age well. For more details see the link below:
Types of Red Wine
- Cabernet Sauvignon e.g. Bordeaux in the Medoc Region of France
- Merlot e.g. St. Emilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux France
- Pinot Noir e.g. Grand Cru Burgundies of France
- Syrah / Shiraz e.g. Hermitage and Cote Rotie districts of the Rhone, France
Types of White Wine
- Chardonnay e.g. French Chablis and White Burgundy
- Riesling e.g. German Spatlese, Auslese and Beerenauslese
- Sauvignon Blanc / Semillion e.g. White Bordeaux in the Graves Region of France
Types of Dessert Wine
- Hungarian Tokaji / Tokay
- Riesling e.g. German Trockenbeerenauslese
- Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc e.g. Sauternes the sweet wine region of Bordeaux France
- Portugese Vintage Port
Types of Sparkling Wine
- Prestige Cuvee Champagne e.g. Dom Perignon, France
New World vs Old World Wines
You may have noticed that there are no New World wines mentioned in the above list (e.g. wines from California and Australia). The New World can and does make age-worthy wines, but they do not last as long or age as well as Old World wines. Although wineries in California and Australia plant the same grape varieties that can be found in Europe, the balance of their wines are different (there are of course exceptions). This difference is mostly due to climate, although the preference of American wine-drinkers for wines with high-alcohol content has affected the wines produced.
Wine balance is the harmony of fruitiness, acidity, alcohol (sugar), and tannin. High acid and tannin levels increase the longevity of wine. As a grape ripens it loses acidity and the sugar level increases along with its ability to produce alcohol. This is the basis of the difference between New World and Old World wines.
Due to the colder climate, most northern European wine growing regions have a shorter growing season than New World wine regions. Therefore, northern European grapes have less time to ripen and have lower sugar levels than New World grapes. The result is Old World wines of high acid, low sugar (alcohol 12.5%), relatively low fruitiness and high longevity versus New World wines of low acid, high sugar (alcohol 14.5+%), high fruitiness and relatively low longevity.
Another consequence of the traditionally high acid and low alcohol content of Old World wines is they are not as accessible when young compared to New World wines. They often require several years in the bottle before they are consumed to soften the acids and tannins and develop their delicate fruit flavors.
How Long Should You Store Your Wines?
The list below shows the number of years after the vintage date (year grapes were harvested) that some common types of wine are likely to reach their peak.
Aging Suggestions for Common Types of Wine
- Beaujolais – 0 to 3 years
- Beaujolais Nouveau – drink as soon as possible
- Bordeaux, Red – 5 to 20 years
- Bordeaux, White – 4 to 10 years
- Cabernet Sauvignon – 5 to 15 years
- Champagne, non-Vintage – 0 to 2 years
- Champagne, Vintage – 5 to 10 years
- Chianti – 0 to 7 years
- Chardonnay – 0 to 5 years
- Merlot – 2 to 8 years
- Gewurztraminer – 0 to 4 years
- Pinot Noir – 0 to 5 years
- Port, non-vintage, tawny, etc. – 0 to 5 years
- Port, Vintage – 10-20+ years
- Rioja – 4 to 10 years
- Riesling – 3 to 20 years
- Sangiovese and Barolo – 5 to 10 years
- Sauternes and other sweet whites – 5 to 15 years
- Sauvignon Blanc – 0 to 2 years
- Shiraz – 5 to 12 years
- Vouvray – 0 to 5 years
- Zinfandel, Red – 5 to 10 years
- Zinfandel, White – 0 to 1 years
This is just a guide, every winery has different methods, and low-quality wines won’t last as long as high quality wines of the exact same type (or grape variety). Wines from good years last much longer than wines from poor years. For example, the recommended aging period for Red Bordeaux is 5 to 20 years. But, a Premier Crus chateaux (top-level winery) from this region can produce a wine that improves for 30+ years in a good vintage. You can get more specific aging recommendations from various online resources like Wine Spectator, merchant websites, or wine guides in paper or digital form.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the best types of wine to store, but it’s enough to start your collection.