Wine ageing is a vital part of getting the most out of it, but contrary to common belief, only a limited subset of wines benefit from extended bottle ageing. The vast majority of wine marketed today, both red and white and rosé, is intended to be consumed within a year or two of bottling.

Overview of wines that should not be aged

Wines that do not generally improve with time in bottle and are usually best consumed as soon as possible after bottling include the following:

  • wines in boxes
  • wines with synthetic closures
  • wines labelled as ‘table wines’ (especially in the European Union)
  • Jug Wines in the U.S., most rosé wines, most French ‘Vins de Pays’
  • most Spanish ‘Vino de la Tierra’
  • the cheapest Italian IgT
  • most of the branded and ‘commercial’ wines (especially those sold in supermarkets)
  • most wines French wines labelled as ‘Nouveau’ (some wines outside of France may also carry this mention and are not suitable for bottle ageing as well)
  • most wines released within the six months after the harvest
  • most basic Ruby Port wines
  • most Tawny Port wines
  • most Moscato wines
  • most Asti wines

Overview of wines that must not be aged

Although of superior quality, the following wines will not benefit (in fact, will suffer greatly) from bottle ageing because their character requires them to be enjoyed fresh and young:

  • the Jerez Fino wines (Jerez-Xeres-Sherry wines)
  • the Manzanilla wines

General rules to determine the ability of a wine to be aged

Even among finer wines, different wines mature at different rates, according to individual vintage characteristics, their exact provenance, and how they were made.

In general the lower a wine’s pH, the longer it is capable of evolving.

Global rules for white wines’ ageing

Such factors as barrel fermentation for whites and barrel maturation for wines of any color play a direct role in the likely life cycle of the wine.

Among white wines, partly because of their higher acidity and flavour precursors, the finest Riesling and Loire Chenin Blanc evolve more slowly than wines based on Chardonnay.

Global rules for red wines’ ageing

Among red wines, generally speaking, the higher the level of flavour compounds and phenolics (especially tannins), the longer it is capable of being aged.

Most wines made from the Cabernet-Sauvignon and Nebbiolo grapes (as well as many of the wines made from Syrah/Shiraz) should be aged longer than Merlot and Pinot Noir. This is due to the naturally higher level of tannins and phenolics for these grape varieties. It should be noted that Gamay and Grenache have lower tannin and phenolic levels than Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Overview on wines that need bottle ageing to develop their full potential

In general terms, better-quality wines made from the following grape varieties will benefit from some bottle ageing.

Red wines with ageing potential: an overview

You will find below a rough guide on approximate ageing potential of some famous reds (and their associated grape varieties):

  • Aglianico of Taurasi (4-15 years)
  • Baga of Bairrada (4-8 years)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (4-20 years)
  • Melnik of Bulgaria (3-7 years)
  • Merlot (2-12 years)
  • Nebbiolo (4-20 years)
  • Pinot Noir (2-8 years)
  • Raboso de Piave (4-8 years)
  • Sangiovese (2-8 years)
  • Saperavi (3-10 years)
  • Syrah/Shiraz (4-16 years)
  • Tannat of Madiran (4-12 years)
  • Tempranillo (2-10 years)
  • Xinomavro of Greece (4-10 years)
  • Zinfandel (2-6 years)

White wines with ageing potential: an overview

You will find below a rough guide on approximate ageing potential of some famous whites (and their associated grape varieties):

  • Chardonnay (1-6 years)
  • Chenin Blanc of the Loire (4-30 years)
  • Furmint of Hungary (3-25 years)
  • Petit Manseng of Jurançon (3-10 years)
  • Pinot Gris (1-6 years)
  • Riesling (2-30 years)
  • Semillon (dry wines) (2-7 years)
  • Botrytized wines like Sauternes, Tokaji… (5-25 years)

General rules for other types of wines

Except for the finest German Eiswein, Icewines tend to mature quickly.

Most fortified wines and similar products, such as Vins Doux Naturels (from Roussillon) and Vins de Liqueur, are bottled when their producers believe they are ready to drink. However, most fortified wines have the capacity to be kept given their higher degree of alcohol. Nevertheless, it does not mean that these wines will gain more complexity through bottle ageing. Exceptions to this are the following wines that need to be kept in a wine cellar to develop their full potential:

  • bottle-aged Jerez wines (‘Jerez-Sherry-Xeres’ wines)
  • vintage Port, because they are design especially for long bottle ageing
  • single-quinta Port wines
  • ‘Crusted Port Wines’

General rules for Sparkling wine ageing

Most Prosecco, Asti and basic Lambrusco wines are made to be drunk young. A general rule can be that sparkling wines made through the ‘Tank Method’ are usually not designed to age (with some high quality exceptions).

Usually sparkling wines made through the Traditional Method (méthode Champenoise) are better equipped to age well, especially those that are highly acidic (for example, Blanc de Blancs from cooler wine regions). Click here to learn more about the impact of wine acidity.

However, Sparkling wines such as some prestigious Champagne wines labelled as ‘Recently Disgorged’ (‘Récemment Degorgé’ in French) and ‘Late Disgorged’ (‘Degorgement Tardif’ in French) are absolutely not designed to be aged further in bottle. These wines may deteriorate quickly once they have been disgorged (click here to learn more about these wines).

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