I am frequently asked what wines are good to cellar, or to buy now to hold onto enjoy later on. To answer this question we first have to ask what makes a wine age well and become better in the future. While not an exact science there are a few key factors that help wine become better with age, they are tannins, acid, alcohol, and residual sugar.
Tannins are a phenolic compound that can be found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves, and fruit skins. In wine, tannins add that dry astringent flavor as well as some complexity. Wine gets its tannins from the seeds, stems and skin of certain grapes that they are made from as well as the wood barrels that they are aged in. Grapes that have high tannin levels are Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Petit Verdot, and Petit Sirah. When wines are aged in oak barrels they gain tannins due to the contact with the wood. The longer a wine is aged in wood, the higher the tannin level. Tannins break down over time so a wine that is very dry and astringent at a young age will become smoother and more elegant as time passes.
Acid is another component that helps wine age well. Acid levels dissipate over time, so a wine with lower acid will not age as well as a wine with a higher acidity level.
Alcohol level is another factor in telling whether a wine will age well or not. Alcohol is volatile and the higher the level the quicker the wine will turn. There are exceptions, however it is best to find a wine lower than thirteen and a half percent alcohol content to age.
The final aspect, that is often overlooked is sugar level. Sweet wines such as port,sherry,sauternes, and riesling often live longer than all others.
Now that we know what helps wine age well lets put together a list of wines that could possibly be great with some years in the cellar. From California Clarets and Cabernets have a good track record for aging well. From Spain Tempranillo and Riojas tend to get better with age. From France Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Cahors are world renowned and known to become some of the best wines in the world. Italian wines that are known to do well are Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Amarone. There are also some white wines that age well such as White Burgundy, Chardonnay, Sauterne, and Riesling.This is a list of wines that may possibly age well. These wines are all made in different styles and fashions, so not all brands will get better with age. Some winemakers intentionally make wines that are to be drank fresh. The best way to find out is to ask your local wine professional or do some research.