While it’s generally accepted that red wine is one of those things that only gets better with age, truth be told a lot of red wine is much better if you crack it open the moment you buy it, or within a few years.
According to Wine Folly, everyday wines only have a shelf life of five years. After they’ve been left in the bottle for that long their quality actually starts to decrease rather than improve. That age window gets even shorter for white wines and roses. Those you should consume within two to three years of buying them.
If you’re out wine tasting and trying to decide what to buy for your cellar (everyone has one of those, right?), wines that age well typically have high levels of tannins (those mellow out over the years, giving the wine a better flavor as it ages), and red wines with a high acidity or alcohol level.
A good rule of thumb is to chat with the winery when you make a purchase and see what their suggestion is for aging a particular wine. Many winemakers have determined a “sweet spot” for how long wines they’ve made should age. If you’re wine tasting, then the winery might even have older vintages on hand so you can get a feel for what’s in store for your bottle in a few years.
A cabernet from one winery might be at its best after 10 years, while a cab from another should age 15 or more years to reach its best. Even more confusing, a cabernet from another winery might be ready to drink the second you pick it up from the store.
If you’re buying the wine from a store rather than a winery, do a little research on your purchase. Many wineries will note how long they think a particular wine can age. You don’t want to be the guy who spent a bundle on an awesome bottle only to age it too long and end up with an oxidized mess when you finally pop that cork.