The simple answer. It depends! On what? A number of elements such as where the grapes were grown, the balance of fruit and acidity, and the ratio of phenolics, acids and sugars to water are key. Factors such as vintage variation and winemaking decisions also play a big role in aging potential.
So with this in mind, which wines age well? Many high-end chardonnay’s, Rieslings (from Germany’s Rhine and Mosel regions) as well as Oregon (I’ve tasted some lovely old examples recently) easily age for 20+ years. Others such as Loire Valley Chenin blanc (25+ years) and Hunter Valley Semillon (15 years) are delicious the longer they rest in the bottle. Vintage Champagne anyone? Every few years, Champagne passes through various ‘lives,’ each with unique characteristics. At two to three years, the wine is floral and fruity; four to seven years, it takes on more honey, almonds and spice. At eight-10 years, toasted bread and orange marmalade surface. At full aging with 10+ years, the wine evolves with notes of gingerbread, roasted aromas and candied fruit.
Which wines don’t age so well? Wines that were made for immediate consumption, like an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Spanish Verdejo, Italian Vermentino, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Müller-Thurgau and Gamay, just to name a few. Most wines are made for immediate drinking, so if in doubt, your better option is to drink it rather than cellar your purchase. When in doubt, ask your local wine rep for consumption recommendations.