Most wine, the overwhelming majority of wine, made or imported into the USA up to the $20.00 price point, is meant to be consumed within a year or two of release. Sure some of these will get better in another year of two, and if you happen let that happen; fine. Most of the world’s wines (at least 90%) are meant to be consumed young. Of the hundreds of questions we get here at the wine board a large number come from people who have hung onto wine too long. We get very few from those who popped it too soon.
White wines are not generally cellared for long periods of time – although there are exceptions such as the very best Graves and Sauternes for instance.
Red wines can be and are cellared for longer periods of time. Some of the very finest reds can be cellared for several decades. A lot depends on the type of grape and the vintage.
Scott Ota, sommelier for the Driskill in Austin, Texas stops by to share some information on wine storage.
As a general rule of thumb, the most ageworthy wines are based on one of three grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Nebbiolo. Perfect examples of these three are red Bordeaux, Hermitage, and Barolo, respectively.
Allow yourself to be steered to wines that people in the know refer to as “tannic.” Tannin is the compound in wine, deriving principally from the skin of the grape, that allows wine to age well. Tannin makes the wine “dry” in your mouth, meaning that wines that possess a lot of it cause the roof of your mouth to lose its moisture, and may even cause a puckering as well. It is because of this quality that people sometimes say tannin in young wine can be “searing.” Wines that are tannic are often unapproachable when young, but over time, the tannins soften and give the wine a structure that allows it to age both gracefully and, it is hoped, elegantly.
You will need a cool, dark or dimly lighted area that is somewhat humid to store your wine. The temperature should be right around 50 to 55 degrees F. and should remain fairly constant throughout the storage period.
Wine that is stored in conditions warmer than these tend to age faster. A wine you would normally consider keeping for 6 to 10 years might only be kept for 3 to 5 years before it “goes over the top”. Bright lighting can also have a deleterious affect on wine so you’ll want your cellar to remain dark or dimly lighted at best.