For most people, wine is consumed shortly after purchase. But suppose you find one that you really like, and you’d like to stockpile some bottles for the future. How can you tell a wine’s prime drinking window?
Even with wines purchased specifically for cellaring, it’s always a good idea to open a bottle immediately so you can establish that first impression and feel out its long-term prospects. You don’t want to drink your entire stash while the wine is still developing, but also you also don’t want those bottles to fall off the proverbial cliff before you’ve enjoyed them either.
Over the course of many years and thousands of wine reviews, I’ve found some tricks to help answer the question of ageability.
Carefully consider the grape or blend, the region and reputation of the producer and/or vineyard, and characteristics of the vintage. General wisdom says young red wines will age better than their young white counterparts. But sweet white wines and aromatic white wines may outlast many reds. Chenin Blancs, Rieslings and Chardonnays, for example, can develop beautifully over many years.
How to Use the Second-Day Test to Determine Aging
Open that first bottle, pour yourself a generous glass and immediately put the cork (or screw the cap) back on the bottle. Do not use any pump or preservative.
Now turn your full attention to the wine in the glass. Give it a good sniff and a careful taste, with no outside distraction. Note the aromatics, the entry, the mouthfeel, the balance and length of finish.
Is the fruit thin, ripe or raisined? Are the acids and tannins in proper proportion to each other? Does anything (new oak, high acid, vegetal flavors) seem out of balance? Keep tasting, but try to allow at least 15 minutes between sips.
Pour another glass a couple of hours after you open the bottle and revisit your first impressions. Be sure to save the last third of the wine in the bottle, pop the cork back on and leave it on the counter—not in the fridge—overnight.
The real test is the second day. Most wines will have faded. But if your wine tastes as good (or better) on the second day, you can generally expect it to age well for many years. And on the third day, if the wine remains delicious, that bodes even better.
Remember, in order for this next-day test to be effective, you must not aerate, decant, gas or otherwise protect the wine. Just leave the cork in the bottle, plop it on the counter and see what happens overnight. Repeat as needed.