Guide to Cellaring Wine
The often-complex world of fine wine is never more ambiguous than in the process of ageing. Which wines should you cellar, and for how long? The subtleties of cellaring, considering factors such as varietal, region and vintage, can never be framed in certainty, but there are questions to ask and rules to consider that make the process easier to navigate.
In years gone past, much of the onus of cellaring wine was placed on the producer: they would hold on to their wine until it was showing a desired amount of ageing, releasing it when it was ready to drink. While this still applies to many of the vintage and fine wines in our portfolio, many of the more modern styles are released quicker, putting the onus on the consumer to understand which wines need to be (or could be) cellared and for how long. Having said this, even some of those wines that have been matured in the cellars of the great international wineries can benefit from more time in the cellar.
Style of Wine
The varietal of the wine (or varietals, if it is a blend) is a key consideration in the cellaring potential of the wine. Generally speaking, reds will last longer than whites. More specifically, the tannin profile of a red wine and the acid structure of a white wine will assist the ageing potential of the wine.
Wines of superior quality will also hold up better over time. Considering this, it’s worth looking to cellar those wines of a varietal a region is best known for; domestically, this could mean Barossa Valley Shiraz, Hunter Valley Semillon and Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. When looking at the fine wines of France, our job becomes even easier, as the relationship between region, style and quality is well-established in tradition.
When in doubt about the cellaring potential of wine, look to the experts. Wine commentators and the winemakers themselves will, almost always, have published advice on the optimal drinking windows of every single vintage of a wine. A quick search on the Internet should equip you with all the knowledge you need to feel safe in your decision to lay down a wine.
With cellaring, bigger is almost always better. From a practical point of view, a magnum-size bottle will raise your perception of the wine and make it less likely you will open the bottle prematurely. It will similarly ensure there is plenty to go around when the day comes that you are ready to open it. Furthermore, there are technical benefits: the size of the bottle can help the wine mature at a slower rate, minimizing the risk of it over-ageing.
While many of the fine French and European wines still utilize a cork enclosure, most of the Australian wines are now leaning towards screw-caps. While there is something nostalgic and weighty in the process of removing a cork, there is also an added risk. When the time comes to open the wine, ensure the process of removing the cork, which can begin to degrade if the wine has been laid down for a long period, is executed by someone with experience.
The location where you will store your wine will be a key consideration in the cellaring process. A dark environment, particularly for white wines at risk of bleaching, is essential, as is a steady temperature. Locations that have marked fluctuations, whether day-to-night or season-to-season, will diminish the longevity and quality of the wine.
Whether it’s a cellar in the basement, a wine fridge, or a third-party you’ve engaged to store your wine for you, it is worth taking the time to get the storage right: there is nothing more heartbreaking than investing years in the development of a wine to find that it has been destroyed by the conditions.