There is a common misconception that white wine is not meant to age. This is a falsehood. It’s true that most white wines are not meant to age, but those that are often turn out to be fantastic.
The two white grapes most famous for their ability to age are riesling and chenin blanc. Riesling from Germany and Alsace can be cellared for decades and come out better than ever. I have many rieslings in my cellar that are 10 to 20 years old. Chenin blanc has a bit of a bad name in the United States, because in past years, copious amounts of it have been grown and made into very mediocre wine. In the Loire Valley Appellation of France, though, chenin blanc is serious business. There, chenin blancs will age for decades without a problem.
Red wines are much more famous for their ability to age. Frankly, there are too many varietals and regions to talk about in just this column, but the wines at the top of the list would be cabernet sauvignon-merlot blends from Bordeaux, pinot noir from Burgundy, nebbiolo from Piedmont, tempranillo from Rioja and sangiovese from Montalcino.
The keys to ageability (yet another word I’ve made up) are acidity, tannin and balance. Acidity and balance are the two most important; rieslings have zero tannin but are still very cellar-worthy wines.
Just like in everyday life, balance is everything. For example: A red wine with lots of tannin and little fruit will usually stay good for a number of years, but when you open it 10 years later, all that will be left is softer tannin. On the other hand, a wine with lots of fruit but little or no acidity or tannin is like a beautiful house with no foundation; it won’t hold up in the long run.
Finally, there is no designated date to open any given wine. If the wine you plan to cellar is famous or gets a fair amount of publicity, then there will be reports down the line from people who are beginning to open their bottles. If it’s a wine that isn’t well documented, you should buy multiple bottles so you can test it over time to see when it reaches its peak
By the way, if any of you out there have cellared riesling that you are planning to open soon, there is always an open seat for dinner at my house. Cheers!
Austin Twohig is a certified sommelier and partner in The Santa Cruz Experience, which conducts winery tours in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.