"Age is just a number. It's totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine," said seemingly ageless actress Joan Collins. But with most bottles now made to be imbibed shortly after release, does a wine's age even matter anymore?
Most bottles of wine are consumed within 24 hours of purchase. Very few people take the time to cellar wine nowadays and, in fact, have little need to.
In the past, many red wines were made in a style that required squirrelling away for some years, but with modern winemaking most are made in a soft, approachable style that means they're ready to drink on release.
Tastes have also moved toward wines with more fresh, fruity and aromatic characters than in the past. If this is the way you like your wines then there's little benefit in laying down bottles for any length of time.
However, age alters wine in a way that allows fascinating aspects to evolve. As it matures, its acidity softens and its primary fruit and aromas are transformed into what's known as "tertiary" characters.
In whites, these often appear toasty and honeyed, while in reds, tannins soften and spicy, leathery and earthy notes can develop.
It's down to your own preference as to what stage in a wine's life has most appeal. But, beware. Not only do many wines not require age, with some it should actively be avoided. These include most cheap wines, especially whites, which lack the concentration and structure to age and will begin to decline a few years after vintage.
Certain grape varieties are also best enjoyed young. For example, many standard local sauvignon blancs see attractive notes of passionfruit transformed into the less appealing character of tinned asparagus.
Those winemakers who produce some of our top examples make wines that can develop with some years in the bottle, but sauvignon is still not the most long-lived variety. In contrast, riesling has an amazing ability to mature with grace. The best can retain their freshness for decades, while even more everyday examples can have a surprising propensity to last.
Given their unfashionable status, many rieslings are now made by people driven by passion, not profit. For a small investment you can stash bottles away to dip into at intervals and chart the wine's chameleon-like evolution.
As reds contain protective tannins, these tend to be more robust. Cabernet sauvignon has plenty of these, so is a keeper, along with the higher acidity that's also a natural preservative. It's often found blended with merlot, with premium versions of these blends often worth cellaring.
Pinot noirs are more of a conundrum. The best age beautifully, but in our new winegrowing nation many are still best consumed within five years. As for vintages, unless you're buying as an investment, given the best producers tend to make great wines even in challenging years nowadays, they're becoming less relevant.
Misha's Vineyard Limelight Riesling 2012 - $28.50
An elegant riesling reminiscent of white peach, fennel and river stones with a gentle sweetness balanced by a crisp, lemony acidity. Enjoy now or cellar.
From Fine Wine Delivery Company, Glengarry, Wine Vault, Advintage, Liquor King and La Barrique.
Morton Estate Black Label Methode Traditionelle 2004 - $33.95
In quality sparkling wines like this the main ageing has been done for you. This rich vintage example is still up for years of cellaring. Years on its yeast lees have imbued it with rich, toasty, hazelnutty notes counterpoised by a bright line of grapefruity citrus.
From selected branches of Countdown, Fresh Choice, New World and JR Richardson Duty Free.
Destiny Bay Mystae 2008 - $150
Velvety textured and concentrated, with notes of ripe blackcurrant, cedar, dark chocolate and violet, this impressive classic red blend can be enjoyed well into its next decade.
From DFS Duty Free, Glengarry and La Barrique.