To Cellar or not to Cellar that is the question.

Over the years I have given many presentations to people wanting to learn about wine, invariably the cellaring question comes up: Do all wines cellar? How long should you cellar wines? How do you know which wines to cellar? Do wines need to be lying down? What is the correct temperature to cellar wines?

I read a statistic somewhere that something like 90% of all wines bought in Supermarkets are consumed within 24 hours of purchase. The truth is that all wines will benefit from some cellaring, yes even Sauvignon Blanc.

One of the reasons for this is that wines come off the bottling line with bottle shock which causes them to “dumb down” for a time; you will taste all the components of the wines as separate entities rather than as an integrated complete wine, something that comes with age.

The time will vary greatly depending on the wine however in my experience wines are affected for at least 6 weeks with some being shocked for 6 to 12 months.

I would never drink a wine in the same year as it’s has been bottled and given that vintage in New Zealand is normally March/April which means that 2019 wines shouldn’t be drunk until at least May 2020 however my own personal preference is at least a year past that again. Wine is a personal thing however and you might like wines that have zingy acid and high fruitiness.

Grape variety also plays a part, generally speaking Whites are cellared for a shorter time than reds, Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Gris’s are cellared for a shorter time than Rieslings and Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and Syrahs are cellared for a shorter time than Bordeaux Blends (Cabernet/Merlot).

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule e.g. a handful of Sauvignon Blancs are fermented in oak and made in a style to age, a really well-made Pinot Noir can outlast a Cabernet/Merlot. The other important thing to note when choosing a wine for cellaring is the winemakers comments, wines that are made to age will usually have a cellaring potential guide somewhere on the back label or on the website.

Aged wines are perfect for a dinner party

One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that cellaring wines will bring both pleasure and disappointment, some wines which show all the signs of needing cellaring will fall over and some wines will be better beyond your wildest dreams. All I can say is that the wines that disappoint will soon be forgotten and the ones that delight you will remember forever.

One of the hardest things is to determine which wines will benefit from cellaring, for this you can’t beat experience, after many years of sampling wines and assessing their potential you get a sixth sense as to which wines might be worth lying down, if you don’t have that experience then you need to rely on the expertise of others.

Iconic wines are easy, a quick trawl through Google will bring up tastings of back vintages, looking through those will give you a feel for how long a particular wine is likely to age for, however just to throw a spanner in the works you also need to take vintage variations into account a wine from a stellar year will age much better than one from a poor vintage.

Most of us however don’t have the budget to fill a cellar with $100+ wines and wines at a level below this can be harder to assess. If you are not confident doing it yourself buy from a wine merchant or shop and ask the advice of whoever is serving, most good outlets will have a resident “expert” on staff who should be able to steer you in the right direction.

If you have tried a wine, discovered that you like it and want to find out if it will age have a look on the wineries website if a cellaring recommendation isn’t there drop the winery an email and ask.

As a quick reference white wines need acid to give them longevity and red wines need firm tannins but both should have good flavour profiles.


Guide by Grape Variety:

Riesling                            1 – 3 years if you like young fresh wines 10 – 20 years if you like a richer fuller style.

Sauvignon Blanc             1 – 2 years

Pinot Gris                         1 – 3 years normally

Chardonnay                     4 –6 years much longer if it’s a good year or a very well made wine.

Pinot Noir                        4 – 6 years like Chardonnay much longer in some cases

Cabernet/Merlot             10 – 15 years if it’s any good

Syrah                                4 – 6 years

Malbec                             4 – 6 years

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