Storing your wine in optimal conditions can be a daunting task. You may not know what the best options are with the space you have available and how a wine actually changes with age — a lot of people even wonder about simple questions, like “How long can a Shiraz age?”
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look atwhat happens to wine with age, and answer one of the most crucial questions of all —why is wine better with age?
Wine and the ageing process
One of the primary explanations for wine’s improved taste over time is because of the change of compounds in the wine over an extended period. The tannins in the wine, for example, can mellow out, and the wine’s flavour can become more complex. Younger wines — particularly red wines — contain higher concentrations of tannins, which makes the wine taste more bitter. The tannins are present due to the grapes that are used to produce the wine.
Another key explanation is that our taste buds change over time, so we appreciate different flavours in wines as we get older. Many people — maybe you included — may comment that wine seems to taste sweeter as it ages. However, this is more of an individual perception — the actual sugar content in wine remains the same over time. So next time someone asks you “does wine get sweeter with age?” you’ll be prepared with the appropriate answer.
In general, wine is better with age because it allows the flavours to mature and mellow. As wine ages, the tannins soften, and the fruit flavours develop. This makes for a more complex and enjoyable beverage. If you've been fortunate enough to taste a finely aged wine, you’ll know firsthand how much difference it can make in comparison to drinking it brand new.
When to drink red wine and white wine
So when is the best time to open an aged wine? This can be tricky to answer, as it depends on several factors, including the specific wine, personal taste and storage conditions. Wine cellaring is an inexact science. However, you can follow a few guidelines to help you determine when a wine is ready to drink.
First and foremost, it’s important to determine whether the wine is actually intended for long-term ageing. Alcohol has a long shelf-life, but a great deal of modern wine is produced for immediate consumption or drunk within a year or two. The label will usually provide an indication, though your seller should also be able to provide some insight too.
Which leads us to the next point —do you age white wine? The answer depends on your patience. Generally, whites and lighter-bodied reds are best consumed within 3-5 years of being cellared, while fuller-bodied reds can age for upwards of 10 or even sometimes 20 years. So if you are worried abouthow long can Shiraz age — which is one of thebest Australian wines to cellar — you won’t have a problem when your storage solution is adequate. And now you knowwhen to drink red wine!
However, if you want to monitor the progress of your wine thoroughly, it's essential to taste the wine occasionally to check on its progress. If it starts to taste too woody or astringent, it might be time to drink it up!
If you can’t wait — or you’ve waited long enough but still want to re-store your wine — it’s best to close the wine immediately after decanting. So, if you have a wine fridge or dedicated wine storage space, use a wine stopper or re-cork your wine and immediately put it back. When re-corking, make sure to have the stained side facing the bottle.
If you're looking to cellar wine at home and can’t afford a dedicated cellar, you'll need a dark, cool, and stable environment. Ideally, your wine cellar or wine storage system should be in the basement where temperatures are consistent and humidity is high. If you don't have a basement, you can try an unused closet or cupboard.
Many different wine storage methods can be effective, depending on the type of wine and the environment it will be stored in. For example, if you are storing red wine, it is important to store it in a dark, cool place. However, if you are storing white wine, you may want to keep it in a refrigerator or cooler for thebest wine cellaring temperature. There are many other factors to consider when choosing a wine storage method, such as humidity and air circulation. To ensure optimal storage, there are a few essential areas that you should have covered, including:
- Temperature — The optimal temperature for most wines is between 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. This can be achieved with a good wine fridge or cabinet, though optimal humidity and temperature conditions can be achieved with a bespoke wine cellar that is fitted to your personal taste and available space. Red wines fare better in consistently dim areas, and white wines are more suitable for fridges.
- Humidity — Even if you have the right temperature levels for your wine, some more finicky bottles may require strict humidity level control. Though this may impact your budget, you'll have prepared for this if you’re an avid wine collector. Optimal humidity levels are 50%-70%, with 60% usually considered perfect. This is most easily achieved with a higher-end wine fridge or even a dedicated wine cellar.
- Lighting— All wines are aged when exposed to harsh sunlight. To keep your wine premium and ageing with grace, you should keep your wine stored in dim areas, away from windows or other areas that let in a lot of light. You may think that keeping your wine in mostly dim areas would work, but fluctuating lighting conditions are usually the worst.
- Vibration — It’s not enough just to keep your wine in a dim or dark area of your house. You’ll need to make sure that your wine isn’t exposed to excessive vibration. So store it away from areas that attract a lot of foot traffic or places like the laundry and garage. If this is impossible with the space you’re working with, a reliable wine rack will help ease the level of vibrations that the wines are subject to.
- Position — Perhaps the most basic but important aspect of ageing your wine is how you store it. Your wine's position will determine how it ages — so to ensure that it’s aged equally, you need to store it on its side. This will stop the cork from drying and degrading, which would be a significant problem for ageing. This is less of an issue if your wine isn’t closed with a cork, though many traditionalists still like to store it on a riddler-style display.
Just make sure the area is dark (for red wine), cooled (for white wine), and free of vibrations. And don’t forget to store your wine on its side so that it ages evenly. You may think that a standard fridge is good enough to store and age your wine, and you would be right in the short term. But, if you intend to age your wine properly over a more extended period of time — like a fine Shiraz, which can be one of thebest wines to age for 20 years — the standard temperatures of a regular fridge just won’t cut it. You’ll need a dedicated wine fridge if you want to keep your wine consistently cool at optimal temperatures for mature ageing.
Alternatively, if you have the means and are serious about your wine collection, you can always have a proper wine cellar built in your home. A dedicated wine cellar won’t just add value to your home — it’ll give a dedicated space that’s just for wine storage. They’ll help regulate the temperature, humidity, and lighting that your wine is subject to while keeping the area vibration-free.
Ageing wine in the bottle with style
There are many unique ways to store wine effectively. The difference is usually due to storage space availability, budget, and personal taste. The latter drastically changes the options that'll be available to you. Sometimes it’s just important to ask yourself ifcellaring wine can be done with a little more flair.
If you're willing to show off a little bit and have the storage space available, you might want to consider storing your wine in a wine barrel. Wine barrels come in various shapes and sizes, so it's easy to find one that will fit in with your home décor. Plus, they're usually not too expensive, and they can add a touch of rustic charm to any room. You can also choose to age your wine by placing it on a ladder wine rack or wine cube.
- Wall-mounted rack — If you have a dedicated area that won’t be subject to heavy and consistent vibration, a wall-mounted wine rack can be a practical and aesthetically pleasing storage solution. They’re usually compact and don’t take much space, making them perfect for those who are conscious about how much space they really want to dedicate to wine storage. The best mountable racks also store wine just slightly off centre, making them a little angled but still horizontal. This ensures that the cork won’t dry out and help your wine mature more gradually and equally. A mountable solution is also great if you’re conscious about ageing your wine but don’t have enough space for a wine cellar or even a regular wine rack.
- Ladder wine rack — If you want to have most of the benefits of a mountable wine rack but aren’t able to mount anything to your wall, a ladder wine rack is the next best thing. You will sometimes see these in luxury bars or restaurants, as they are both practical and eye-catching.