How to cellar wine. Tips and tricks for storing and serving aged wines

How to cellar wine. Tips and tricks for storing and serving aged wines

In the age of instant gratification, the simple pleasure of savouring cellared wine is something few people regularly experience today. As a result, winemakers concentrate on making their wares approachable young, with vibrant fruits that lift out of the glass and softer oak influence. While there is a lot of charm in grabbing a bottle from the shop, pouring it straight into a glass at home and toasting to the end of a long day, it can lack for memorableness. The purpose behind cellaring wine, is the wonderful intent to create a pleasurable experience in the future. So the question is, is it worth the effort? The answer is absolutely, but only for the right wines.

What happens to wine flavour as it ages?

Wine is a complicated solution of flavours, acids and tannins, constantly interacting with each other. Each wine has a unique composition unlike any other, a chemical calling card of the vineyard and winemaker. When wine first goes into the bottle, the molecules are all very small. This means there is an abundance of them to bind to the receptors on your tongue, sometimes making the wine feel rough or sharp. Over time, all these molecules start to bind together, creating larger molecules which feel softer on the tongue. But it’s more than a ‘softening’ of the sharper tannins, aged wines can have a synergy about them that’s more than just flavour. When all parts of the wine are in balance, this is when the experience becomes memorable.

How long can you age wine for?

How long you can cellar a wine will depend on the wine. Not all wines are suitable for cellaring and some are best drunk within the same year of bottling. You can follow these simple rules for determining if a wine will improve with age.

  • Is it red or white? The majority of wines that will age well are red. There are some notable exceptions to that rule with Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling
  • Sparkling wines are often best drunk straight away - the ageing process for Sparkling wine happens during the winemaking process so they’re ready when put into the bottle.
  • How has the wine been made? Check the tasting notes or the back of the bottle to find out the portion of new oak barrels used in the winemaking process. Wines with a higher portion of new oak will likely cellar well.
  • Is it a wine of providence? Wine from established estates and single vineyards are often crafted with the care needed to age gracefully. 
  • What does the winemaker recommend? Wines that can be cellared will usually have the recommended ageing time on the back label.
  • How does it taste? Wines that will cellar well have intense flavours when young, but they can sometimes feel ‘closed’ or ‘sharp’ until the flavours settle and amalgamate. Look for those tell tale signs in a young wine as an indicator of the ageability of a wine.

Storing wine at home - tips and tricks 

When we think of ‘cellaring wine’ we picture underground lairs, with stone archways and wood panelling. These aspirational cellars are filled with expensive, dusty bottles and are associated with wealth and status. The reality is that almost anyone can cellar wine. All it takes is the right spot and a lot of patience. Wine needs consistent, cool temperatures to age well. Somewhere between 12-18℃ is ideal. Sometimes this can be the linen cupboard, the laundry or an insulated garage. Heat rises, so avoid the upstairs wardrobe or any room with northerly afternoon sun. Similarly, avoid storage in rooms with wood fires or ducted heating. It also needs darkness to avoid damage to the wine by light, and a quiet space away from vibrations (so under the stairs is out). Many people think you have to store wine on its side, but the invention of the screw cap has mostly made that unnecessary for Australian wines. Only wines with a cork need to be stored lying down to keep the cork from drying out.

How to serve aged wines and get the most out of them.

When your patience is finally ready to be rewarded, take the time to set up the moment right. Create some theatre with a dinner party, or simply arrange a night to remember with someone truly special. Decanting can lend a sense of grandeur to a dinner party, it’s about creating something memorable after-all! Wines with the best drinking window between 10-15 years can benefit from decanting, especially to remove any sediment that may have precipitated in the bottle over that time. However, really old wine can actually spoil if you decant it. Because there is virtually no sulphur left in old wines they can oxidise very quickly. Simply open, pour and enjoy really old wines (taking care with old crumbly corks!). 

Cellaring Hungerford Hill Wines

Bryan and the Hungerford Hill team craft a wide range of wines that will improve with age, including the Epic Shiraz and the Heavy Metal Cabernet Shiraz. Both these wines will reward you well if you cellar them, creating a memorable experience for you in the years to come! A winery is the perfect place to cellar wine, with plenty of insulation and cooling concrete to keep the bottles at optimal temperature. Hungerford Hill has a stunning collection of back vintage wines that we have aged, many of which are drinking perfectly right now. Members get exclusive access to these cellared wines with special releases periodically available throughout the year. To enquire about becoming a member, please contact