Many styles of white wine age beautifully in a cellar, and that list isn’t limited to vintage Champagne. I frequently store white wine in my own cellar and find that the right whites can age just as well, if not better than, some of the finest red wines on the market. It’s true that most white wines won’t last for decades, but the handful that will age are something special. To successfully cellar white wine yourself, you’ll need to understand which varietals are worth the effort, and which you’re better off skipping.
White Wines You Should Drink Now
As with red wine, only high-quality, collectible white wines are worth the effort of cellaring, along with those that improve in taste as they age. For instance, Pinot Gris is typically a wine that tastes better in its youth than it does as it gets older. You’ll find wine from some producers, like Zind-Humbrecht, that is an exception to the rule, but overall, even if Pinot Gris is valuable and collectible, it doesn’t mean it will cellar well for decades because the flavors simply won’t improve with that added time. Other wines in this “better young” category include nearly all Prosecco and Cava, most Moscato, and most Viognier. In addition, any white wines that aren’t specifically designed for aging, such as mass-produced Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc, will spoil in a cellar if you keep them longer than about two years. Nearly all white wine can be drunk young without ruining the experience, but only a handful will truly reveal themselves in their old age.
Wines That Last 3-5 Years
What makes one white wine last longer than another? The secret is acidity. White wines don’t have as much tannin as most red wine, so they don’t naturally last as long in storage. Tannin comes from the grapes steeping in their own skins and seeds during fermentation. Most winemakers avoid skin-on fermentation with white wine because the bitter flavor of the skins stands out too much. Knowing this, the white wines that you can store longer than average will be those that make up for a lack of tannin with higher acidity, such as those grown in cooler regions like Alsace. The colder the region, the higher the grape’s acidity will be, on average. You’ll also find that oaked Chardonnay or oaked Sauvignon Blanc will usually last longer in a cellar than unoaked peers because the oak adds complex flavors that develop over time.
Wines That Last 10-20 Years
Higher acidity and oak aging will increase the life of a wine by a few years, but if you want to store white wine for a decade or more, you’ll have to consider sugar content and region as well. Some of the sweetest white wines on the market are also those that last the longest in the cellar. Sweet vintages of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc and Auslese Riesling from Germany easily last a decade or two in a cellar because they combine high sugar levels with equally high levels of acidity. These are wines that typically have a hint of citrus flavor with overtones of vanilla and sweet fruit like peaches. High sugar content means that the alcohol content is also high; more of the sugars break down and ferment into alcohol, and this alcohol helps preserve the wine over the years.
In addition, high-quality vintages from Bordeaux and Burgundy tend to last at least a decade in the cellar. White Bordeaux ranges from rich and opulent to crisp and finessed, although the top producers like Haut-Brion tend to make wines in the former category. This style is the one you will want to choose to lay down in your cellar. Since wines usually flatten as they age, starting off with a bold, complex young wine will improve your chances of that wine becoming even more complex 10 years later without losing its bold flavors entirely. Similarly, oaked Chardonnay from Burgundy lands on the bold side of the spectrum, and will last longer in a cellar as a result.
Wines That Last 20+ Years
My go-to wine for long-term storage is vintage Champagne from top producers like Louis Roederer and Moet & Chandon. The special edition Collection series from Krug is also known to last 20 years or more. Champagne has the added benefit of carbonation, which extends the life of Champagne early in its development, and years later, it begins to age like any other quality white wine. However, because sparkling wine is more delicate and volatile than still wine (changes in temperature have been known to cause bottles of Champagne to explode), you have to take extra care not to expose your bottles to heat and light.
The longest-lived white wines are top-tier Chablis, botrytized German Riesling, ice wines, and Sauternes. Each of these styles uses sugar content and acidity to its full advantage, representing the most extreme cases of both qualities. Sauternes makes some of the sweetest wines on the market, yet as they age, these wines actually lose some sweetness. They go from purely sweet dessert drinks to toasty, complicated experiences. Many of these wines are overly sweet in their youth and almost undrinkable for the first few years, but as they mellow out with age, their sweet fruit is toned down, and hidden acid notes appear, completely changing the character of the wine for the better. I recommend buying your white wine sweeter than you prefer, and allowing its true flavors to unfold in the cellar as the decades wear on.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.
At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most
treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of
passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles–we love sharing a great
glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a
Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.