There is something uniquely romantic about entering a dimly lit wine cellar, with its subtle dusty aroma, and seeing rows upon rows of bottles beckoning. Any one of these bottles has the potential to bring long awaited delight that rewards patience, or to break your heart with the bitter disappointment of corked contents. The experience is both thrilling and terrifying.
Whether you’re buying collectors items or looking to enter the ageing game, knowing what makes a wine worth cellaring is essential to ensure you don’t waste your time, money, or a good bottle of wine.
Not all wines are created equal, especially when it comes to their ability to be cellared or ‘aged’. So what do you look for when considering to pop a cork or cache for later (sometimes much, much later)?
1. Start with price point
For those intending to start a collection and will be purchasing the wine, there are some very basic rules surrounding your price points that will point you in the right direction. As a safe rule, any wine from $20 and under is designed to be enjoyed within five years of its bottling. Even above this price point many wines will rapidly start to lose their structure and characteristics as the wine ages. So, in addition to price points, consider the general structure of the wines Tannins, Acid, Alcohol and Fruit.
One of the reasons red wines tend to cellar better than whites is their higher concentration of tannins. Found in the stems, seeds and skins of grapes which remain with the juice during red wine fermentation, tannins act as a preservative and will help give a red wine strength during its ageing. Highly tannic wines in their youth, providing they are balanced, will smooth out as the tannins break down over time.
Much like tannins, acid plays a huge role in preserving the fruit and balance of a good wine. It’s the reason a citrusy riesling or solid chardonnay can go into a dark room and emerge, 10, 15, 20 years later a golden treasure ripe for drinking. Likewise red varietals with typically high acidity such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir can be excellent candidates for cellaring. Howard Park’s Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon and Allingham Chardonnay are excellent examples of both a red and white worth cellaring.
Think of tannin and acid as the framework, with a good balance supporting the most important aspect of the wine, its fruit. As a wine’s flavour profile changes over time, it needs to start with a harmonious, pleasant fruit profile that is balanced well with tannins and acidity, rather than overpowered by them.
5. Balance and integrity
Beyond any other indicator, be it price, tannin, acid or flavour, the most important element to look out for when deciding whether to cellar a wine, is its balance and integrity. When it comes to wine, the saying ‘time will tell’ is more relevant than ever, with any imbalances or imperfections magnified over time. If a wine is drinking well with a strong, full flavour and has all the right mouthfeel that indicate it has the backbone to go the distance, then it might be time to put it away and let your cellar do it’s magic.
Cellaring is an art form and can be extremely rewarding, and as such the internet is abundant with forums, advice and tasting notes you can always refer to when in doubt, or to keep tabs on how your current collection is drinking.