General term for the period of time, usually expressed in years, during which a wine is a pleasure to drink or can be enjoyed without too much impairment of taste. The often used generalising slogan "the older the better" is wrong, because this only applies to wines with ageing potential and can only be expected for top quality wines. The beginning is the time of marketing, which in the case of simple red wine and white wine intended for quick enjoyment also means that the wine is ready to drink. For top wines, the bottle ripening is a long-term process with 5, 10, 15 years and more. At some point, the peak is reached, although this is not to be understood as "key date related", but means a longer phase. At some point it begins to "decompose" and is finally inedible or "dead" at the end of life.
The consumption trend today, however, is clearly in the direction of wines that can be enjoyed quickly (albeit with a slight downward trend). This is why mainly such young wines are produced and the shelf life has become less important as a result (it should be noted, however, that the trend is slowly reversing). In a few wine guides a prognosis of the shelf life or the probably best drinking period is given; for example by Robert Parker, as well as by the wine internet platform Wine Plus (see under re-tasting). In the case of wine, however, it is not possible to determine beyond doubt whether it is still edible at a certain age, which is why it would not be possible or useful to indicate the best-before date. This is another reason why no indication is required for beverages with an alcohol content of more than 10% by volume.
The durability or longevity is an important criterion for the quality of a wine. As a rule, a high-quality wine is also more durable. A number of factors are important, although for several reasons red wines have better conditions than white wines. First of all, the vintage or the vegetation cycle plays a certain role, providing the basis or the tools, so to speak. Another criterion is the potential of the grape variety, because certain of them are particularly predestined for longevity. These include Aglianico, Baga, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Furmint, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Petit Manseng, Riesling, Sangiovese, Saperavi, Sémillon, Shiroka Melnishka, Syrah, Tannat, Tempranillo and Xinomavro. Most of them are red wine varieties with small, thick-skinned berries that are rich in tannins and extracts.
An important factor is the way the wine is made. A mash fermentation in wooden barrels, as well as barrel ageingor barrique ageing contribute to its longevity. Higher proportions of certain ingredients in a balanced ratio have a positive effect. Alcohol, acids and tannins inhibit/prevent the growth of undesirable microorganisms, sugar ensures slow fermentation and sulphur protects against oxidation. The longevity of white wines with high sugar content is proven by Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. Correct storage in the wine cellar or wine climate control cabinet with optimum temperature and humidity also plays an important role. Last but not least, a tight bottle closure protects against oxygen and thus spoilage, and a dark bottle colour protects against harmful UV light and thus against wine defects.
An often asked question is whether sparkling wine (i.e. champagne or sparkling wine) is suitable for longer storage and will continue to develop like a high-quality still wine. This can be answered with "no", because as a rule it has already reached its peak from the moment it is marketed. This means that, with few exceptions, sparkling wines should be drunk as soon as possible after purchase. This is also the reason why many producers state the date (year) of the dégorgement on the label (see also Récemment dégorgé). Some producers also produce storable products such as jugs.
Even more than with still wine, proper storage is important for sparkling wine. The optimum is a constant temperature of 10 to 15 °Celsius, sufficient humidity and darkness (see also Wine Cellar). With spirits there is hardly any change or no qualitative development in the bottle. Only the maturing time before bottling is decisive for the quality. In contrast to sparkling wine, however, spirits can be stored for many years (decades) without loss of quality.