How long does wine keep?
The question I get asked most often as a wine writer is how long you should keep a bottle of wine. It’s one of those ‘How long is a piece of string?’ questions: it depends both on the bottle and the drinker.
Some people relish mature wines that have acquired complex aromas and flavours. Others would much rather drink wines while their fruit is at its most vibrant and intense.
In general bottles under £7, especially whites and rosés, are not worth hanging on to for more than a couple of months. Most wines these days are designed for immediate consumption. “We always worked on the assumption that every bottle people bought would be drunk the same day” former supermarket wine buyer Angela Mount told me. “Certainly most will be consumed in the week”
Red wines that are worth ageing
Wines that are traditionally held to benefit from ageing are red wines matured in oak such as red Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo, the theory being they need time for any harsh tannins to soften. But that isn’t invariably the case. Even Bordeaux is made in a fruitier style designed for early drinking. Unless you’re buying expensive wines you’d want to drink most within 3-5 years, depending on the vintage. (Good Bordeaux vintages such as 2010 and 2015 have more staying power than lesser ones such as 2013.)
It also depends how old a wine is when you buy it. Some wines - such as Rioja reservas and gran reservas - are aged by the producer before their release so there is little point in hanging on to them for any length of time.
On the other hand full-bodied new world red wines like Australian shiraz or Californian Cabernet Sauvignon can benefit from keeping for 5-7 years as they retain their vibrant fruitiness for a surprisingly long time.
The conditions under which you keep your wine will also affect a wine’s longevity. If you store your wine in a wine rack in the kitchen exposed to heat and light it obviously won’t stay fresh as long as wine that is kept in an underground or temperature controlled cellar but not many of us have those.
How long should you keep white wines?
Of course it’s not just red wines that are worth holding on to. Aromatic white wines such as riesling and Hunter Valley semillon become more complex with age though not everyone enjoys the slightly oily kerosene notes that they develop. Loire chenin blancs such as Vouvray can gain a lovely honeyed character but again that’s not for everyone.
A good white burgundy will improve for 2-5 years but after that can lose its freshness. Chablis, even basic Chablis, has a bit more staying power. (2014, at the time of writing, is a good year for both)
Sweet wines such as Sauternes and Alsace gewürztraminers also age well (about 4-8 years, depending on the size of the bottle*) while fortified wines, such as port and madeira, are famously long-lived though again most are aged before they’re released and designed to be drunk soon after they’re bought.
All in all you’re more likely to be disappointed by holding onto a wine too long than by drinking it too soon so if in doubt drink it up!
* half bottles age more rapidly than magnums
A version of this article was first published in BBC Homes & Antiques
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