Not long after being bitten by the wine bug I developed a desire to have an awe-inspiring wine cellar. A dark, quiet, underground sanctuary where I could showcase my collection of world class wines and share them with friends. Nearly forty years later, and having never won the lottery, I’m still dreaming of that cellar.
That small detail however has not stopped me from collecting wine and sharing many enjoyable bottles with friends. Despite my lack of a hallowed place to store my wine, there are ways to “cellar” wines, even here in Florida. More on that later. But the question then becomes which wine is worth cellaring?
The good news, regardless of what you may have read, is that most wine sold today is meant to be drank when it is released from the winery. Only a tiny fraction needs time and improves substantially with age. But how is one to know which wines might actually improve with time? Let’s discuss a few fundamentals of what makes a wine age-worthy.
The basic structure of wine is made up of tannin, acidity, alcohol and fruit. Tannins are found in the skins, stems and seeds of grapes and act as a preservative giving structure and backbone, mostly in red wines. The more tannins generally the longer a wine can age.
Acid is another key component of age-worthy wines. Much like tannins in wine, acidity acts as a preservative. The development of acid begins in the vineyard (grape varieties, climate, time of harvest) and can also be influenced by wine-making techniques. Higher acidity translates to more aging potential.
Your next question may be, but how can I figure what wines have higher acidity and more tannins? This answer depends on many factors like grape varietals, climate, year of harvest and more. As a guideline, Sangiovese and Barbera are great examples of red varieties with high acidity levels, while Riesling is perhaps the best example of a high-acidity white grape. Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of a red grape variety known to have lots of tannins. But when in doubt, you can ask your local wine consultant at ABC for some guidance.
The level of alcohol in a wine is a bit confusing with regards to aging. Generally speaking, the lower the alcohol level in a non-fortified wine (8-14% ABV) the longer it will last. Fortified wines with alcohol levels in the 17-20% range (vintage port, fine sherry) can be some of the longest lived of all wines. To make it easier, don’t worry too much about the alcohol level when considering what to cellar.
This brings us to the most obvious component of a wine, the fruit. Producers who set out to make every day, satisfying wines want and expect their wines to be consumed when they are young and fruity. A wine that does not possess high levels of tannin and acidity can still offer infinite enjoyment and refreshment as long as the fruit lasts. Once the fruit starts to fade with age (and in warm climates you don’t have much natural acidity) you’re not left with much else.
When thinking about which wines you may want to squirrel away for a special occasion keep in mind a wine needs tannin (for red wines), acidity and fruit to evolve beautifully over time. When tasting a wine look for a concentration of flavors and aromas. There is no set formula to figure this out, but in the end look for wines that are balanced with great intensity of the key components.
Finally remember to store your wine properly. A cool, constant temperature, away from light and vibration is most important. If your wine has a cork, you will want to store it on its side. This keeps the wine in contact with the cork and prevents the cork from drying out. Of course, if you have a wine that is enclosed with a Stelvin closure
Don’t let your lack of the most beautiful, impressive wine cellar prevent you from the joys of collecting wine. My personal “cellar” consists of an ABCFWS in- store wine vault and an at-home temperature- controlled unit. Salute and have fun collecting!