One thing that sets wine apart from everything else we eat and drink is that it can get better with age. That’s usually the opposite for other stuff. But if you have ideal wine cellar lighting, an optimal wine storage temperature, the right wine storage furniture, and a bar inventory spreadsheet you can create magic. A wine cellar organizer app helps, too.
But even experienced wine collectors—to say nothing of casual wine enthusiasts with small collections—don’t have a great idea of what wines would benefit from aging and how to go about doing it. Learning what makes wine age-worthy takes some true work.
Thankfully, it’s not too complicated. Each to-age-or-not-to-age decision can be cleared up with some definitive information. Below we cover what makes wine worth aging, how long to age your wine, and what the best types of wines to age are. And at the end, there’s a convenient aged wine chart that sums it all up.
But first, let’s get a hold of why we’re even doing this. Why is aged wine better? How does aged wine improve? And does all wine improve with time?
Read on, collector.
How to Age Wine
First, you’ll need to follow the basics and best practices of wine storage. This will ensure you avoid bottle shock in wine and keep the bottle safe from air exposure that would cause oxidation in wine. Then you can start thinking about duration.
Coates’ Law of Maturity, created by British Master of Wine Clive Coates, is a simple, widely-accepted rule for how long to age wine. It states that “a wine will remain at its peak or optimal drinking quality for a duration of time that is equal to the time of maturation required to reach its optimal quality.”
Let’s say someone acquires a wine when it’s four years old, but they find it one-dimensional and unexciting. One year later, that same person opens another identical bottle and discovers it has fuller, rounder, and more interesting flavors and aromas. Using Coates’ Law of Maturity, that wine can continue to be aged and drunk at optimal levels until it's 10 years old.
Wine experts have routinely tested Coates’ assertions and been generally unable to compellingly disprove it. It’s how to age wine simplified, and anyone wondering how long to age wine makes their lives easier by following it.
What Are the Best Wines to Age?
Wines with the best structure age the most gracefully. And since structure is usually imparted by tannins, which are in turn imparted by grape skins, stems, and seeds during maceration, those tend to be red wines. You can learn more about the fermentation of different wine varietals by picking up some of the best wine books available.
Here are some of the best wines to age (both red and white), followed by a wine aging chart for easy reference. Keep in mind that each producer and vintage is different, and that the vast majority of wines bottles sold are meant to be enjoyed before they’re five years old. But of those that aren’t, here are some general guidelines to get the best aged wine you can. Never age cooking wine, it's not worth the time investment as you'll burn it off during cooking anyway.
Aged Red Wine
The best aged red wines tend to be Port, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sangiovese, monastrell, cabernet franc, nebbiolo, malbec, and syrah. Other full-bodied wines with robust structures will also age well, but we zeroed in on these nine as our top choices for the cellar treatment. They're also a great place to start if you want to learn how to sell wine or become a wine negociant. If you happen to spill any of this great wine, keep a wine stain remover on hand to deal with it quickly.
Aged White Wine
While white wines aren’t especially known to excel with aging, there are a few whites with firmer structures that like it. The six whites we’ve identified as the best candidates for aging are chenin blanc, chardonnay, riesling, viognier, white Bordeaux, and semillon.
Wine Aging Chart
Frequently Asked Questions About Aging Wine
Beyond this basic overview, there's a few more questions you'll want answered before you start aging your own wines. A few of them are:
How long can you age wine? For most wines, an aging time of two to three years is most appropriate. For the truly special bottles, 10-15 years is on the further side of the scale. If you're looking to age wine, definitely search for some people who have aged similar wines to find the best length of time.
Can you age any bottle of wine? Technically, if you want to age any of your wine, there's nothing to stop you. However, there are wines out there that will have issues if you age them too long. To avoid issues like bottle shock and other concerns, be sure to do your research before you start the aging process. That said, if you have an abundance of wine and just want to give it a go, there's no rule that says you can't age any wine you'd like to try.
Aged Wine: Uncommon but Precious
The best rule for how to age wine is to follow Coates’ Law of Maturity because it’s tailored to specific vintages from specific producers (each wine will have a different pre-bottling maturation period). So, whether you’re becoming a sommelier or you’re just an individual collector interested in wine storage, it’s straightforward and based on specifics.
But if you don’t have that information handy, you can use the years in the chart above and work backwards toward some approximation of Coates’ Law.
There are other ways to enhance the wine experience besides aging, though. Aged wine has a subtlety and mystique that are unmistakable, but if you’re just trying to make your wine the best version of itself, think about learning how to decant. Or using wine aerators. They’re simple, affordable, quick, and we’ve compiled some great lists of the best wine decanters and best wine aerators to make it easy.
Aged wine is great, don’t get us wrong. Just don’t age wine for the sake of it. You could be doing more harm than good. You should also pick up a wine pourer to make pouring that aged wine easier and avoid wasting a single drop.