September 12, 2019 – Published in Design & Decor Autumn 2019 issue
White Wine: keep it or drink it now?
Words Fabien Etienne
With my experience, most of the time, people tend to drink white wines too young.
Of course, not every wine will benefit from ageing. A wine made to be opened immediately, as most wines are, will lose its fruit character if you cellar it too long. Wines made to age can be unpleasant to drink young. To age, they require relatively high levels of tannin and acid.
Let’s take an example of some of the white wines which can be enjoyed young. Crisp and fresh Sauvignon Blanc, some Muscadet, Pinot Grigio, as well as chalky Petit Chablis, zesty Albariño and so on. Their vibrancy and focus are much of what makes them so appealing. But many of these whites also deserve a place in the cellar, too.
Wines like white Rioja, German Riesling, Australian Semillon, white Burgundy develop layers of complexity with decades of aging. The acidity in these wines means that along with those toasted, nutty, vanilla, petrol and dried fruits flavors, you’ll still have a wine whose parts are all in the right places.
Many of these age-worthy whites come from cooler climates such as the Mosel region of Germany – where primarily Riesling grapes are grown – and Chardonnay in Burgundy France. The grapes in cooler regions do not ripe as quickly, creating acidity that, together with some sweetness, will function as a preservative. Whites from warmer regions, such as Spanish Rioja, the southern Rhône, or California can also age well thanks to having more of a tannic structure like reds. Classic dessert wines such as Sauternes and Tokaji, as well, have a concentration of sugars that makes them built to last.
How do you see that wine has aged?
Red wines lose colour as they age, while white wines actually gain colour the more it matures. This process can be compared to an apple’s flesh turning brown when it comes into contact with oxygen. Young white wines often have a greenish hue to them, while those matured in oak barrels tend to take on a straw-yellow hue. As they age, white wines become more golden, sometimes amber coloured.
How to store properly?
Thus, a wine storage facility must maintain consistently cool temperatures and consistent humidity levels to make wine taste better with age. For best ageing, keep wine at temperatures between 10 to 13˚C (50 to 55˚F).
Humidity must be just right to make wine age at the proper rate. Too much humidity causes mold to accumulate, especially around the cork. Too little humidity causes the cork to crumble, which allows oxygen to enter the bottle and cause oxidation.
Ageing wine properly allows it time to develop a smooth, full flavour that enhances the experience of drinking wine. Talk to your favourite wine dealer to learn more about aging wines.
Some example of White wine which deserved to be cellared
German Riesling (5 to 20 years. Sweet 10 to 30+ years)
Burgundy Chardonnay (10 to 20+ years. Often more)
Loire Valley Chenin Blanc (Dry 10 to 15 years. Sweet 10 to 20+ years)
Greek Assyrtiko (5 to 10 years)
White Rioja (5 to 20 years)
Vin Jaune (10 to 20+ years)
Australian Sémillon (5 to 10+ years)
Hermitage White (10 to 30 years)
I have recently had the occasion to taste two amazing old White and you won’t believe how fresh it was!!!
Rioja Viña Tondonia, Lopez de Heredia 1999
Schlöss Schönborn, Riesling Spätlese, Geisenheimer Rothenberg, Rheighau 1964
I know it is not easy to know when you buy a bottle if it is to keep or not. Next time you buy some Riesling, Chardonnay from well-known appellation, consider grabbing a few extra bottles. Then hide them somewhere dark and cool for around 10-15 years.
Fabien Etienne is a professional sommelier and wine consultant based in Malta. Riedel ambassador, he organizes private master class as well as other bespoke wine services.
Find out more on
Instagram fab_somm or contact him on 9938 8088 or