difference between "ageable" and not

I am BRAND new to wine (outside of splurging $20 once in a while for an organic Nero D’Avola that is my favorite). But I’m considering beginning a 400-500 bottle cellar soon and have a couple of questions.

  1. What exactly is it about a particular wine that allows it to age for 50 years while another will go bad after two? My “newbie brain” says, 'hey, it’s grape juice. sure the dirt might have more nutrients, and there might’ve been more sun one year than the next, but how can one batch of grape juice be mature in a year, go bad in 2 years while another can sit for half a century?"

  2. Does anyone have a recommendation for a cooler? Let’s say I’d like to keep it $2,500 or less, as many bottles as possible for that range. Forgive me I haven’t done my research into these very much. I know they have “single and dual” zone which I assume is the slight difference in ideal temps for reds and whites.

  3. If I decide I have to have some of the “big guns” … where are the best online or other resources? What sources should I stay away from? Can I buy direct from Berry Brothers in London or should I stick here in the US somewhere?

I think that’s it for now. I’m resisting … my palete right now is perfectly happy with many grocery store $5-$7 per bottle cabs etc. with a splurge on a $20 once in a while…but I’ve got the bug, or at least the start of it … I definitely see myself with a 500 - 1000 bottle cellar in the next few years…

Some partial answers…

  1. Most people say that, in order to keep, a wine must have tannins or acidity. And to age well it must also have good fruit initially. Personal preference is also very important in deciding when best to drink a wine.

  2. Most people would say that it is fine to cellar both reds and white at the same temperature. There are certainly some who disagree, but I have never seen any evidence for this. I think the main purpose of dual zone fridges are to hold wine at serving temperature, rather than for long term storage.

Finally, I would recommend taking it easy to start with. Try tasting some old wine before you start aging it yourself. Mature wine is not liked by everyone, and it could be a very expensive and time consuming mistake to start building a big cellar.

Hi Ken

  1. A question you’ll be unsurprised to know has come up before. There is no definitive answer, though elements such as acidity, tannin, dry extract, balance, depth of fruit are factors. There is a cheat though, as if a wine lasted and improved over 20-30 years, and is being made in broadly the same style, and the vintage conditions are broadly similar, then we’d be quite confident about the new vintage doing the same. If this vintage is a little lighter and easier going in youth, we might knock 5-10 years off that expectation.

  2. I am very happy with the Liebherr wine fridge bought a while back. A reliable unit and good ratio of bottles to cost. I wouldn’t choose dual zone - I really want the unit to store wine in good conditions, so if I need to give it a slight chill, or get it up to cool room temperature, that’s very easy to do. A big decision is whether this is for indoors in a lounge / dining room, or in a utility room / garage / similar. For the former, glass doors do look better, whilst for the latter, a solid door is sufficient and might save you a few $/£

  3. I’d warn against racing to the big guns, as on the whole they are priced as big guns. Their name offers prestige and that comes at a premium. Follow your own palate, certainly exploring Nero d’Avola wines (some great value to be had with these in Southern Italy), but letting random tastes prompt exploration elsewhere. Try if you can to constrain the growth in your cellar until you’ve explored a bit more, though having the odd ‘regional focus’ can be a great way to start wrapping your head around a region. Plus, be careful what you wish for - being happy with $5-7 wines and the odd $20 splurge is no bad place to be in, when some here might be happy with $30-40 wines and the odd $300 splurge! A really enjoyable $10 wine is something to get far more excited about than a lovely $100 wine.

I echo the above points.

The first and foremost thing in having a good, ageable wine is its high acidity / low pH. Tannins help a lot in aging red wines, but usually the longest-lived red are also low in pH (i.e. have high acidity). The wines that don’t have tannins (on other words, white wines) but still can age well for decades are always high in acidity (Champagne, Riesling, Loire Chenin Blanc, Burgundy Chardonnay). Tannins only don’t go a long way - I’ve had many times very big and tannic but low-acid reds that have fallen apart after only 10 years, but still have very tough and unresolved tannins. On the other hand, I’ve had many low-tannin high-acid reds that have kept remarkably well for decades.

Sugar is also effective in helping the wine age. I’m not talking about 5-15 g/l of residual sugar that one might find in inexpensive commodity wines, but instead in the range of +80 g/l you usually find in dessert wines. They can be relatively low in acidity, yet develop wonderfully over decades because of the protection the sweetness brings.

Ripe, sweet and fruity wines whit lower acidity usually are tasty when they are young but they either develop very quickly or just keep for a few years before falling apart. I’d like to warn you that approximately 95% of inexpensive Nero d’Avola belongs to this category.

When choosing a wine cabinet, try to look for one that isn’t just a wine cooler, but actually for cellaring purposes. They can be less aesthetic at times (some looking no more than freezer boxes made to stand on their end) but they are built to work well, not to look good. Usually if it is a multiple-temperature cabinet, it is a cooler, because normal cellars have only one single temperature (ok, they might be cooler closer to the floor, but that’s beyond the point) and different wines don’t need different temperatures, exactly as Steve said above. What they need is a constant temperature that is within the range of 10-15 Celsius / 50-60 Fahrenheit and humidity above 55-60%.

+1 also to the last point made by Steve: take it easy at first, try to hone your palate and study what you like. Try to get your hands on some older wines, before often aged wines are not always to everyone’s liking. Quite often they can be quite an acquired taste and some people never learn to like them.

Outside of Left bank Bordeaux, burgs, Cali cabs, what are the big region varietal combinations that are known to be ageable?

Chris - there is actually a lot of wine that improves with age. A few examples, not an exhaustive list:Sweet wines, particularly fortified wines like port, can last for very long times and continue to improve and gain complexity. Barolos and barbarescos from the Piedmont region of Italy age and improve for decades. I love old German rieslings as well - they pick up really interesting characteristics as they age.

Hi Chris
The list would be way too long and I’m sure we’d miss some obvious ones out. A large proportion of wine regions have wines that age very well, though I’d say a large proportion also have wines that should be drunk relatively young. It depends what they’re aiming for … aka the old adage: producer, producer, producer.

Perhaps a cute way to get a feel for what is ageable, is to look through what old wines are listed by fine wine brokers or someone like Chambers St. Whilst the former may overly lean towards the classics, I get the impression that the latter is a little more eclectic.

One of the great joys of my own journey, was being able to cellar not just prestige wines, but relatively modest wines that were still recognised as ones that would do well in the cellar. That mix was great and arguably gave me a greater range of styles / options than had I stuck to just the top end of the market (not that I had the money to do this!).

It’s quite an impossible task to make an exhaustive list, but just to point you to the right direction with some obvious and less obvious examples of varietal-regional combinations:

Aglianico: Taurasi, Italy
Baga: Bairrada, Portugal
Chateau Musar: Bekaa, Lebanon
Cabernet Franc: Chinon, France
Gamay: Cru Beaujolais, France
Malbec aka. Côt: Cahors, France
Nebbiolo (traditionalist Barolo, traditionalist Barbaresco, Ghemme, Gattinara): Piedmont, Italy
Pignolo: Friuli, Italy
Ramisco: Lisboa, Portugal
Plavac Mali: Southern Dalmatia, Croatia
Sangiovese (traditionalist Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino): Tuscany, Italy
Saperavi: Kakheti, Georgia
Syrah: Rhône (Northern), France
Tannat: Madiran, France
Tazzelenghe: Friuli, Italy
Tempranillo: Ribera del Duero, Spain / Rioja, Spain
Xinomavro: Greece

Assyrtiko: Santorini, Greece
Chenin Blanc: Loire, France
Juhfark: Somló, Hungary
Pinot Blanc: Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy (mainly Cantina Terlan Vorberg)
Riesling: Alsace, France. Mosel / Nahe / Rheingau / Rheinhessen, Germany. Kamptal / Wachau, Austria.
Sauvignon Blanc: Südsteiermark, Austria
Savagnin: Jura, France
Timorasso: Piedmont, Italy
Verdicchio: Marche, Italy
Viura: Rioja, Spain (mainly Heredia, Marques de Murrieta)

Banyuls, France
Madeira, Portugal
Maury, France
Picolit: Friuli, Italy
Rasteau, France
Riesling Auslese / Beerenauslese / Trockenbeerenauslese: Germany / Austria
Rivesaltes, France
Sauternes, France
Tokaji, Hungary
Vinsanto, Santorini, Greece
Vintage Port, Portugal

There are some very classic examples, but also a lot of geeky alternatives that all can and will survive easily at least a decade in a cellar, most of these will age gracefully for several. Some exceptional wines like Madeira, the best sweet German Rieslings, outstanding Vintage Ports, Ramisco from Lisbon or Savagnin from Jura can make it over 100 yo.

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Ahm… right bank Bordeaux? :slight_smile:

Super helpful thanks!

Yea I meant to write left and right banks but got caught up looking at cellar tracker as to what I was going to drink tonight and then went back to the post and forgot :astonished:

Don’t forget some grape varieties may not be that good in many places, yet in a few specific spots, they may be outstanding. Alicante Bouchet’s reputation is only as a coloring variety, considered dreck in most places. Yet in the Alentejo in Portugal it can produce sublime, very long aged wines.

I hadn’t subscribed to this topic after posting and just found all these amazing answers. Thank you so much. What keeps haunting me is the “$7 palate” … do I want to risk developing a $30 palate! haha.

I’ve just discovered WTSO (Wine until sold out) that offers (supposedly) higher end wines for 50-70% off, many with free shipping. Have any of you had experience with them? I was thinking that if I managed to find bottles of decent ageable wines for super killer prices, I might end up being able to sell just enough to make my drinking “free” or at least “low cost” over, say, a ten year period. Thoughts?

A lot of wines you find on WTSO are not too much cheaper than just going to wine searcher and ordering elsewhere. There are good deals here and there but the stuff you’re getting doesn’t really have a secondary market to resell

@Chris T. even though the WTSO’s type of wines might not have a secondary market now, would it be a plausible strategy to buy 4-6 bottles of “ageable” wines from a source like this with the intention of selling some a few years down the road to offset the cost of the bottle I drink now, or in the next year?

This is the strategy I think I’m heading toward…picking up a 300 bottle or so cooler and start chipping away. Maybe pickup a blue chip or two … but mostly $40 bottles I get for $30 on WTSO or other places, holding as long as needed for appreciation, while enjoying some along the way.

Sounds too “good on paper” to be a workable strategy, but does it make sense?? I want to have fun but I also want to do the work necessary to make a little to offset the cost of my more refined pallate as life goes on.

Thanks again.

$30-$40 wines are rarely going to appreciate ever I think. ?

Are there any wines outside of the Blue Chips that stand a chance of at least some appreciation over a five-year period? I know the obvious bordeaux’s and burgundy’s but outside of that?

At that price point, most likely you won’t get enough to cover the electric bill that comes with the cooler. No matter how long you age. Aged wines often are pricier than younger ones, but to make profit, the average price of the producer should go up with time as well to offset all the other costs.

Furthermore, I doubt people are looking for random $30-40 wines in the secondary market that are aged in a wine cooler.

Hmmm…okay I do have a lot to learn obviously. I’d like to NOT have to only buy $4,500 bottles of lafite. If you wanted to create a cellar that would offset your drinking costs and maybe even give you a 3-4% profit over time (understanding that many of my wines would have to be held for 10 or more years before selling), what might be the top 10 you’d buy? My intention is to have fun with collecting, yet make enough money to justify jacking my palate from $7 Flip Flop cabernet (my current favorite) to $15-$50 per bottle.

@Otto Forsberg - Do you feel any of those wines might appreciate if I held them 5-10 years or are they strictly drinking?

Which wines are you now referring to?

And wines are not an investment, they are a hobby. If you are buying wines in amounts that are much bigger than your anticipated consumption, expect not to make much or any profit - even if you made some, that’ll be offset by the electric costs incurred by the wine cabinet. If you would’ve bought a case of Barolo from a renowned producer from the acclaimed vintage of 2006 for $30 back in 2011 or 2012, you might be able to sell them now for $40. That’s $120 revenue in 5 years, minus the electric costs of the cabinet. But then again, the acclaimed vintage might have turned out to be less acclaimed after a few years, or you might’ve picked a less interesting producer, which means that you would have to sell the wines at purchase price, or even lower.

Investment wines are a completely different thing and they usually start at $400-500. The proceeds with less expensive wines (mainly anything under $100) are going to be so minimal that it will not be worth it.

My suggestion is to have wine as an interesting and engaging hobby, not an investment and means to make money - unless you are planning on opening a wine shop.