Cellaring wines, try those which are drinkable now
By Bill Zacharkiw
I recently had one of “those” chats with a wine lover and collector.
“You must have a big cellar,” he asked.
“Yeah pretty big I guess,” I replied. “I have around a thousand bottles.”
The fellow listed off a number of classic wine cellar bottles that he figured I must surely have stored away. There were top flight Bordeaux, hard to get Burgundy, the “superest’ of the Super-Tuscans, as well as a few “icon” wines I had tasted from new world places but frankly have never considered buying.
“I don’t know man, I don’t have any of those,” I answered with a shrug of my shoulders.
The fellow, a bit stupefied that a big time wine critic doesn’t share his penchant for the fancy bottles, then asked what made up my collection. So what do I have in my cellar? I do have a few expensive wines crated up. But the vast majority of wines gathering glorious dust in my basement are bottles that cost under $40 and have as their primary appeal one and only one characteristic: drinkability.
The money myth of cellaring wines
The most common misconception about cellaring wines is that you need to spend lots of money on a wine and then wait over a decade to drink them. Well, I don’t have that much available cash to spend on really expensive wines and to be honest, these big red wines (my cellar is half white wines by the way) are often tannic, concentrated and so heavily oaked they melt your teeth in their youth. Patience, they say, will be rewarded.
If there is one thing that I have learned over my 25 year career in wine, it’s that:
1 – I’m impatient.
2 – I don’t believe any wine on this planet is worth much more than $100 a bottle.
3 – If a wine doesn’t turn you on in its youth, it doesn’t matter how long you let it age, you probably won’t like it much more later.
Sure my beloved Barolo and Barbarescos can be quite tannic in their youth, but they are still very drinkable and rarely show much in terms of oak. Try the 2010 Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco and you will see that at $40, you can get ageable and drinkable all in one package. Or what’s even better, many Barolo houses only release their bottles after they have already aged. Try the 2008 Dardi le Rose, Bussia from Poderi Cola. Under $50, it’s good for now and the long term future.
For those of you with a New World palate, I have noticed more and more wines showcasing fruit that’s ripe and not overripe, and with less emphasis on all the oak. The 2009 Trenna Red from Austin Hope is a perfect example of this, as is the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags’ Leap.
The quotation marks should be heavily bolded around the word icon. Somehow this word which is used to denote “an object of uncritical devotion” has been usurped by wineries the world over to draw consumer attention to their top wine. These wines, which for the most part are excessively concentrated and were raised in new and expensive oak barrels, often make me dream of simpler times, and simpler wines.
The reality is that anyone can make these super concentrated wines, and if you have enough cash, you can buy new barrels. But terroir is not democratic, and the majority of the world’s terroirs produce grapes with moderate complexity that are best made into good quality table wines. There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, I revere wineries that can produce a great wine for $20-$30. While these wines will age and get better in the short term, three to five years, the beauty is that they can also be drunk now.
I have been drinking lots of grenache-based wines from southern France these days and they are perfect example of this. The 2012 Clos de Caillou, Garrigues is a remarkable grenache-dominant Côtes du Rhône which will reward with just a modicum of patience. On a similar vein, the 2013 Lieu Dit Clavin from Vieille Julienne is an inspired effort at under $30.
White is definitely right
When I’m asked why I have so much white wine in my cellar, my answer is that for me it is more of a sure thing for aging than red wines. That’s right. I have had great success with wines with striking acidity like the 2014 Vacheron from Sancerre. I recently opened a 2009 Saint Joseph from Pierre Gaillard and it was mind blowing. I am sure the 2014 will be of equal magnitude in three to five years.
Wines that combine acidity and sugar, like riesling, are simply hard to kill. I have been lucky enough to taste verticals of Cave Spring’s CSV and the extra depth and complexity that these wines gain, in a relatively short time frame, is remarkable. The 2013 is a classic example of the worthiness of the Niagara terroir’s ability to produce great quality riesling at a decent price. I have also stocked up on the 2012 Charles Baker Picone Riesling. I just hope that I can refrain from drinking them down too soon.
The bottom line is that many people are afraid from starting wine cellars because they feel that one needs to spend enormous amounts of money on wines. This is simply not the case. Any wine done with a modicum of care will gain complexity with even a few years in a wine cellar. So if you buy a wine, no matter what the price, and love drinking it now, then throw a few in your basement. Chances are that it will be even better in the not-so-distant future.
Until next time.
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
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