Most wine – white, pink or red – is meant to be consumed within a year or two of bottling, especially if it’s in a box, jug or tetra-pak, has a synthetic closure or says “table wine” on the label.
Assuming you have a fine wine, keep in mind that different wines mature at different rates depending on exactly where they’re from, what the vintage was like and how they were made. For both white and red wines, barrel fermentation and barrel aging can extend the wine’s shelf-life.
Generally, wines with lower pH can evolve for longer periods of time. Lower pH translates into higher acidity, which forms part of the wine’s structural backbone. Most wines clock in around 3-4 on the pH scale. Taking you back to junior high for a moment, neutral is 7; below that is acidic, above that is basic (think baking soda). This is why higher acid whites like Riesling or Chenin Blanc may evolve more slowly than the lower-acid Chardonnay.
With reds, higher levels of tannins will allow for a longer life-cycle; a Cabernet Sauvignon should be aged longer than a Pinot Noir.
Here’s my take on a handy entry I found in Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine.
Red Wines (varietal on left, suggested number of years in bottle on the right)
|Aglianico of Taurasi||4-15|
|Baga of Bairrada||4-8|
|Melnik of Bulgaria||3-7|
|Raboso of Piave||4-8|
|Tannat of Madiran||4-12|
|Xinomavro of Greece||4-10|
White Wines (same format as above)
|Chenin Blanc of the Loire Valley||4-30|
|Furmint of Hungary||3-25|
|Petit Manseng of Jurançon||3-10|
Make note that several of the whites would give the reds a run for their money in terms of aging potential. Hurry up and wait!