The aging, or lack of aging, in wines is a matter of taste and a matter of science. Aging changes the flavor of a wine, but too much can ruin it and most wines can be consumed when it is 1 to ½ years old. Some wines should not be aged at all. So if you see a vintage that is recent, it does not mean it will not have a full flavor. There is much more involved in producing a top product than how long it was in the cask.
Wine can also be aged in the bottle, but if it is not stored the way it should be, it will spoil, or as they say in the wine industry, go over the hill, very fast. Wines from the same vineyards from different years will age differently also.
There is a substance called tannin that is produced in the seeds, stem and skins of grapes. The wood in the aging barrels can also have tannin. It is very important for the proper aging of wine. It is acidic and has a bitter taste, but over time it will separate from the liquid and settle to the bottom of the bottle. When this happens, the true taste of the wine will be more balanced. That sediment on the bottom is a good thing. Red wines tend to have a good amount of tannin and should not be drank when young. The reason is in the making of red wines. The color comes from not only the grape skins, but from the stems as well. White wines generally do not have any of the stems or skins and will not have much in the way of tannin, unless it is picked up from the barrel. In any case, it will still be less than is found in a red. This is why most white wines do not age well. Most white varieties can last for 5 to 7 years, maybe 10 but not beyond that. There are reds that can be kept for 30 years.
Other variables come into play as well. For instance, 2 wineries can produce the same wine from the same type of grapes and yet one will age better and longer than the other. There could be a lot of reasons. Slight difference in the soil or more rain in one area than in another. One producer using a slightly different process. Even the size of the bottles comes into play- smaller bottles simply age faster. And wine will not age right if it is not stored right.
This is only a general guide to how long each wine should age before being uncorked. Remember, many variables come into play. Beaujolais 0-3 years. Beaujolais Nouveau none drink as soon as possible. Bordeaux, Red 7-12 years. Bordeaux, White 4-10 years. Cabernet Sauvignon 5-10 years. Champagne, non-Vintage 0-2 years. Champagne, Vintage 5-10 years. Chianti 0-5 years. Chardonnay 0-5 years. Merlot 2-5 years. Gewurztraminer 0-4 years. Port, non-vintage, tawny, etc. 0-5 years. Port, Vintage 10-20 years or more. Rioja 5-10 years. Vouvray 0-5 years. Zinfandel, Red 5-10 years. Zinfandel, White 0-1 years.
How Long to Age Wine
Aging Guidelines for Wine