If you can afford to maintain a wine cellar, you might already know the answer to this question. However, if by “wine cellar” you mean “scary basement” or, more preferably, a place that is generally cool and dark without temperature fluctuations, that depends on what’s in the bottle.
The majority of wines, in fact, are meant to be consumed “young”, that is, within a year or two after they’ve been produced. Many other wines, regardless of their aging potential, are also slugged back in this early window. It’s difficult to identify which bottles can stand up to a year or ten in a dark corner of your basement/buried in your backyard without some familiarity with the compounds that contribute to the structure of the wine. Tannin, a substance found in the seeds, stems, and skins of grapes, is one such compound. A bitter, mouth-puckering agent, tannin is a key preservative for wine, instrumental in its long-term maturation process. As wine ages, tannin slowly falls out of solution, collecting as sediment in the bottle. In wines known for their aging potential, this reaction allows other characteristics to show through. That’s why a bottle you thought tasted like asphalt might suddenly become more flavorful, more complex, and perfectly balanced.
Tasting wine and becoming acquainted with regions known for the great old vintages is a sure way to make sure you’re not wasting precious space on a bottle that won’t evolve into anything except vinegar. As a rule, red wines will always age better than white wines, but several whites can withstand a bit of cellaring themselves. Just like with most things, the best way to get better at identifying these bottles is with practice. In this instance, that means pull some corks and start experimenting!