Making a Twenty Year Kit Wine

updated 05/24/2024

Recently a friend posted on WineMakingTalk — he wants to make a wine to lay down for twenty-one years, in honor of his new grandson. He makes kit wines, and asked for advice on how to attempt this.

I didn’t want to discourage him, but what he’s asking is very hard to accomplish. Ninety percent of the world’s wine production is designed for consumption within three years, and most of the remaining ten percent is unlikely to have a shelf life of more than ten years. The common perception of wines having decades of shelf life is mistaken. Very few wines have a lifespan of more than five years, much less twenty.

But that said … in my opinion it’s a worthwhile effort, so following are my thoughts regarding how to make a twenty year kit wine.

Please note that my ideas here are not guaranteed to hit the target. I’m describing the things I’d do to achieve the goal, with the understanding that failure (the wine not lasting twenty years) is a strong possibility.

What to Make?

The first question is deciding what to make.

White Wine?

Realistically, the likelihood of making a white wine that has a twenty year lifespan is close enough to zero to be zero. Whites lack the tannin and body of  red wines, and while there are German Rieslings from the 1700’s that are still viable, I have trouble getting a white to last three years, much less twenty.

In my opinion, making a white kit survive twenty years is out of the question.

Red Wine?

That leaves red kits.

Given the tiny fraction of the world’s wine production rated for ten years, much less twenty, this is an uphill battle. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying, but I must keep my expectations realistic. We also need to keep in mind that even if the wines don’t last twenty years, it will be a great try!

So … what varietal(s) do I choose?

Choosing Varietal(s)

I viewed several wine longevity charts, including the one published by Wine Folly (reproduced without permission):

The charts I’ve viewed all resemble sound bites, e.g., short presentations and/or explanations to condense a complicated subject into something that can be quickly understood. The problem is that wine longevity is a complex topic and I have yet to see a short explanation that a winemaker could use to make the right choices.

I tried to write an explanation of the above chart, but after several tries, I gave up. In my opinion, don’t use a chart.

So how do I choose one or more varietals?

I considered what wines are known for longevity, and immediately I thought of Burgundy, Rhone, and Bordeaux. There are other regions known for longevity, but these are the ones I have the most knowledge of, so I’m sticking with what I know.

Burgundy: Red Burgundy is either Pinot Noir or Gamay. However, Gamay is not known for longevity, so the only choice is Pinot Noir.

Rhone: Northern Rhone is Syrah typically blended with Marsanne and Roussane (white grapes), while Southern Rhone is a big list of grape blends, typically with Grenache and/or Syrah as the primary grapes.

Bordeaux: These are mostly blends using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

This is a lot of options. So let’s start eliminating:

  • Pinot Noir? I’ve had several Pinot Noir kits, but none were anything I’d expect to age for five years, much less twenty.
  • Syrah and/or Grenache? Syrah makes a heavy wine and is available as a kit from several vendors. Grenache, unfortunately not.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and/or Petit Verdot? All four can make heavy wines, and all four are available as kits.

So my choices are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Which one(s) to choose will depend on what kits are available.

Choosing Kit(s)

Choosing a kit starts with choosing a vendor. There are a lot of vendors that make only cheap kits, and I automatically exclude all vendors that don’t make at least a decent quality kit. In my experience, the choice is limited to Winexpert, RJ Spagnols, and Finer Wine Kits (FWK). There are other vendors of good kits, but I’m not personally familiar with them.

I’ve made the premium kits from Winexpert and RJ Spagnols, and was disappointed each time. Not with the overall result, but in my opinion the resulting wine was not enough better than the next lower grade of kit to justify the upwards of 50% higher cost.

In recent years I’ve made FWK Tavola (mid-range) and Forte (high-end) kits, having good results. However, Forte is the higher end kit, so I’d choose one of these, which comes with two skin packs that significantly bump up the body. While I believe Winexpert and RJ Spagnols are good choices, I like FWK better.

Looking at the current (May 2024) list of Forte kits, we have Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah kits, plus a plethora of blends. WOW! So many choices!

I suspect any of the kits would be as good a choice as any of the others. However, in 2021 I made a triple batch of the FWK Super Tuscan, which was barrel aged for a year, and am really happy with it. So in this mythical wine I’m making, I choose it. Note that the year I made this wine, the grapes contributing to the blend were all Bordeaux grapes (grown in California).

Please note that I would buy two kits, not one. If this wine survives twenty years, I’ll want more than a few bottles. See more about this below.

My normal method for kits is to top each 23 liter carboy with 1.5 to 2.5 bottles of compatible wine during bulk aging, but for this one I’d not adding that variable. After the wine clears, I’ll rack into one 19 liter and one 23 liter carboy so the wine is unmixed.

How to Make It Last?

Longevity in wines is a factor of tannin, ABV, acid, sugar, etc. Since this is a dry red, sugar is not considered, but the levels of tannin, alcohol, and acid need bumping up.

Note: Some of the idea in this section are not what I’d do to make a normal wine, e.g., high ABV wines don’t interest me. However, the goal is to make a twenty year wine, so I will do things I’d not otherwise do to achieve the goal.


Tannin will be bumped up in several ways:

Skin Packs: Forte kits come with two skin packs, and I’d buy an extra four packs, for a total of six. One of the principals of LabelPeelers (sole vendor for FWK) said that adding more skin packs above two produces diminishing returns, e.g., add as many as desired, but each additional pack produces less improvement than the previous one did. I’d add six total skin packs to increase the body and tannin of the wine, not make it “better”.

Fermentation Oak: This is a requirement, as it preserves the natural grape tannin and generally improves body, but doesn’t contribute oak flavor. The package directions of the shredded oak I purchased says three to four cups per batch, so I’d max it at eight cups for a double batch.

Maceration Enzyme: I’ve been using Scottzyme Color Pro for four years and would add this to get better extraction and body.

When fermentation is complete, press the skin packs in a press to get the most from them. While some folks may argue against this as it extracts the harshest wine, it also has the heavy body needed for longevity.

Aging Oak: I would use the cubes that come with the kits and not add more. While oak mellows over time, it’s still very possible to over-do it, so I’d not add more.

Alcohol Level

Higher ABV lends itself to better longevity, so once the kits are fully constituted, the must will be chaptalized to a specific gravity (SG) between 1.115 and 1.120. This will produce between 15.9% and 16.6% ABV.

This is a “hot” wine, but in twenty years I have hopes it will mellow. I have wines in the 15.8% range that mellowed after five years.


The yeast strain chosen won’t affect longevity, but many strains are alcohol tolerant up to 14% to 16%. I’d have a packet of EC-1118 on hand, and if the fermentation slows down before it completes, add an overnight starter of EC-1118 to finish the ferment.

Acid Level

Once the wine is four months old, I’d add tartaric acid until the wine approaches being sharp. This is by taste.

Note that during bulk aging some acid may be lost to crystals, but that’s ok.

Bulk Aging

I’d follow the FWK protocol and ferment down to 1.010, then seal the fermenter for a short Extended Maceration (EM). On Day 14, unseal the fermenter, rack the wine off the sediment, and press the skin packs. In theory the gross lees should have dropped, so any sediment that drops after that is fine lees, which may be ignored.

Normally I bottle carboy reds at the nine to twelve month mark, but I’d bulk age this wine for two years, adding K-meta every 3 months.

At bottling time I would add 1/2 tsp K-meta per carboy instead of the normal 1/4 tsp, as this is the last K-meta the wine will receive for twenty years.

For bottling, use high end corks. Normally I scoff at using high end corks as being unnecessary for the time homemade wines typically last, but in this instance it’s necessary.

Storage and Testing

Part of the aging process is storage, so the wine needs to be stored in the best conditions possible. This means a consistent temperature between 50 and 55 F.

Starting at the five year mark, I would open a bottle annually to see how it’s progressing. It would be horribly disappointing to lay down wine for twenty-one years and discover at the grand unveiling that it was bad.

I’d make the annual testing a family event. Everyone gets a taste.

This is another reason to make a double batch — about 55 bottles will be produced, and after annual tasting, there’s 40 bottles remaining.

Other Options

In the thread that inspired this post, other members suggested alternatives, which I’m repeating here:


One person suggested buying Scotch, Cognac, or Vintage Port to keep until the grandson reaches twenty-one. If the experiment doesn’t work as hoped, there’s still something to drink on the grandchild’s 21st birthday.

Me? I’d buy a few bottles of Vintage Port, as the birth year is on the bottle. It’s a keepsake.


Meads are good for longevity. I would not include any fruit, as that component is more likely to break down. A straight Mead or a Metheglin (Mead with spices) would be my choice.

The ideas for the red kit would be followed here as well, producing a high ABV mead, backsweetened with a high acid.

I’d backsweeten it a bit, which adds another factor for longevity.

Homemade Port

Another option is to take a few bottles of the above wine and make a Port-style wine with it. This involves fortifying the wine to 21% with a liquor such as EverClear, and backsweetening.

Personally, this is a good backup as this is likely to survive better than the wine.

Final Thoughts

While I question if a kit wine can be made to last for twenty years, it’s a grand experiment.

If at an annual tasting the wine appears to be declining? I’d have a “The Experiment Failed! Let’s Enjoy The Wine!” party. Celebrate the early ending of the experiment.

Why celebrate? We have wine that must be drunk, and that’s always a good thing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *