Which Wine For Cellaring?

I just got asked this, and my response ended up so involved that I decided to make a post out of it so I can point people to it and not have to retype it later.

“I’m thinking of starting a wine cellar, what wine should I buy a case of to start?”

You’re asking a Virgo, who lives in wine country, what wine to buy for long term storage and all the variables that come with such a choice?! Way to open a can of worms!! You’d better sit down….

I believe 2009 is sitting in barrels at the moment, so it’s really tough to say. But at least it will give me an excuse to go out tasting… not that I really need one. 😉

First off, let me point out that a mediocre wine won’t improve with age. So if your target is ~<$20/750ml I think you will find disappointment in a bottle decades later. That’s not to say that more expensive are necessarily better or that there aren’t some real good buys out there if you know what to look for. It’s just that on the scale of things, if you find a 2009 Boone’s Farm legitimately going up for auction in 2059 and it fetches more than it’s original price, not only will I double the winning bid, I’ll eat the bottle.

For long term aging, what you want to lay down is a delicate, heavy bodied wine from Old World vintners or a wine made after their style. Most wines today are what are referred to as New World wines that are pressed and bottled in the US and in many cases also include those from Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and South America. They are usually inexpensive and are meant to be consumed while they are young because they were specifically crafted to be that way.

Some wine varietals have a tendency towards aging more well than others. Wines made from grapes that are thick skinned, well ripened, have lots of tannin and enough buttressing acidity are generally good as they will “mellow” as they age. Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most well known example as is Bordeaux from France (provided the actual wine in consideration has an adequate balance of the aforementioned qualities.).

So for reds that age well your options are Bordeaux in France, Coonawarra in Australia, and some select ones from California (Particularly Napa Valley) that are made by descendant vineyards of old immigrants. Mind you, this is by no means an exclusive list, I’m sure there are others that I’m leaving out.

If you’re thinking more along the lines of a white… Rieslings are meant to be aged, for the most part. With the added bonus that, being a wine that leans towards peach, pear and apricot flavors with a slight, fruity sweetness, even non-wine drinkers can enjoy them. In fact, many people start enjoying wine with Rieslings and if they ever graduate beyond them, they roughly follow the path Rieslings-> Chardonnays-> Sauvigon Blancs-> Rosés-> Pinot Noirs-> Merlots-> Cabernet Sauvignons-> Zinfandels.

If you go with a Riesling, I recommend that you get it from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine region of Germany. There are some good domestic Reislings, but Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is hands down the best choice for Riesling IMHO, especially for their consistency in how good they are.

Other whites besides Rieslings that can age effortlessly for decades include French Vouvrays and Australian Semillons. Again, this is not an exhaustive list.

That being said, when it comes to aging wines, Red is definately where it’s at and I’d only really consider whites if I felt a little variety was in order to round out a cellar’s collection.

Wines that do not benefit from aging are Merlot, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay and should, in general, be drunk young or only stored for five years or less. So cross them all off your list for long term storage.

The real problem, I think you will find, is that the wine industry goes by some statistic that something like 90% of all wine purchased in the US is consumed within 48 hours. This has influenced wine production towards making wines that can be consumed immediately and require no time in a cellar to taste good.

While that’s a great benefit to us less well off folk who have neither the extra cash or room for a cellar, especially when we just need to grab something on the way to dinner at a friends house; when it comes to actually trying to figure out what to set aside, it’s made it very difficult.

For example, the tendency in Napa over the past decade, give or take some years, has been to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon very late in the season. By harvesting when the grapes are quite ripe, the result is a wine that is out of balance and leaning heavily towards alcohol, fruit and tannin. Then, there is the addition of a lot of oak that makes a wine with a lot of flavor but the result, at least to my discerning palette, is a bit oddly integrated. A lot of these wines may taste flamboyantly great as a young wine, but because they are so out of balance, they just won’t last as long. Once all that exuberant fruit fades, the tannin and oak will be all that remains.

One of the key drivers of this trend has been the tour de force that is Robert Parker, who is largely responsible for bringing the idea of being a “wine connoisseur” down to the level of every-man. Parker makes no bones about his desire and ultimate preference for “Fruit Bombs” and as a result, he has stirred up the public to the point that some people go crazy seeking them out and they go absolutely ga-ga when they find one.

It’s also turned the industry upside-down and backwards. It used to be that one had to ask “How long until this bottle is drinkable?”, then it moved to “Is this bottle drinkable now?”, then it was “How long will this bottle keep?”, now it’s, “Will this bottle keep or do I have to drink it by next week?”

In any case (no pun intended), I certainly wouldn’t buy a case for long term aging blind if you actually have hopes that it will prove to be a good investment by actually being drinkable decades out. Your best bet is to try before you buy and if the taste leaves you feeling like you just chewed on an oak branch while someone pelted you in the face with a bunch of fruit, cross it off your list and move on to the next one.

As usual, I’ll keep my taste buds on high alert and will pass along anything that stands out.

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~ by ghendar on November 1, 2009.