Most wine aficionados love to cellar wine. Reading the reviews, buying a case of a treasured acquisition, and then watching it sit in your cellar until its ready to drink is pretty exciting to some, but for others, it’s a bit like watching paint dry or bread getting mouldy.
As wine matures in the cellar, it develops, and increases in complexity — comparing well-matured wine to its most recent vintage can be like travelling back in time or imaging what a child will become when the weight of years is upon it.
Not everyone likes old wine. Youthful wines are generally full of fruit flavours and are easy to drink and easy to describe, while older wines shed that youthful, fruity exuberance and showcase earthy characters with more spice or rustic layers. There is certainly a place on the table for both of these wines.
Asking for wine advice on cellaring can be a bit like asking how long a piece of rope is. You are going to get a very different answer each time you ask. In general, your cellar should be cool, dark, and undisturbed as much as possible. Another thing to consider is that when professionals are estimating how wines will cellar, they are estimates.
A good sommelier will have plenty of experience with multiple vintages, new and old, and should be able to draw comparisons suitable for the wine in question. Finally, you may prefer wines that aren’t fully matured or you may even prefer wines that are a bit over the hill. These cellaring estimates are just that — estimates.
Culinaire Magazine asked a few leading retail sommeliers and wine experts for their thoughts on cellaring wine. Nathalie Gosselin (NG) of Vine Styles, Peter Smolarz (PS) of Willow Park Wines & Spirits, and Mike Roberts (MR) of Co-op Wine Spirits Beer weigh in and share a few picks from their own stores that might be a fit in your cellar.
Q: What do you look for in selecting wines to cellar? In particular, regions or types of wines?
PS: I am always looking for wines that have a reputation of being long-lived. In particular, for reds, I have lots of Pessac-Leognan and Pauillac wines, from a range of vintages. From Burgundy, I stick to mostly Corton Vineyards while the Northern Rhone is also a favourite of mine, mostly Cote Rotie. With the prices on French wines increasing, in the last few years I have started collectingmore Italian wines – Super Tuscans, Brunello and Barolo, and more Spanish wines, mostly Priorat and Ribera del Duero.
For whites, I have some Clos du Mouches and Corton Charlemagne tucked away, as well as some Eden Valley Rieslings. These are some of my favourite with age, and as of late, I have started collecting more Bordeaux Blanc from Pessac-Léognan. Vintage Champagne is what I collect the most of – especially the 2002 vintage; lately I have been collecting more Blanc de Noirs.
MR: This is not an easy question to sum up in a simple answer but there are some very important characteristics that must be considered when choosing to cellar a wine.
Noticeable tannin structure and good acid levels are ultra-important. Acid does not fade with time, keeping the wine fresh, whereas tannins will meld into a softer mouthfeel. Body and concentration is of utmost importance too. There needs to be significant texture to begin with, so after ageing, some of that texture and concentration still exists. My favourite cellar-worthy region has to be the Northern Rhone. The aged syrah from this area produces wonderfully savoury and smoky aromatics backed most years by a fresh acid component. If I could drink Cote Rotie and Hermitage every day, I would! Chianti Classico Riserva is another gem, and great value that evolves into deeply complex and interesting wine. I lean on regions or wines that show good tannic structure balanced with acidity. Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Rioja are great options too.
NG: I love wines that continue to evolve in the bottle with time. It’s always nice revisiting your favourites to see how they change, and when it comes to my own selections for cellaring, the main components I look for are tannins, acidity, and alcohol content, for lasting power. In my opinion, every wine region produces wines with aging potential, but the ones that come to mind are Italian Barolo and Barbarescos. And I can’t overlook a good Bordeaux or Napa Valley wine. Just remember, a certain wine region or a price point isn’t indicative of whether or not the wine should be cellared.
Q: What sort of timeline to you prefer to cellar wines for?
MR: Who has 15 years of patience and discipline? Not this guy. Quality Rieslings from all over the world offer great reward at five to ten years. I find I enjoy cellared wines at seven to ten years best. The fruit has evolved, but typically not into completely tertiary or secondary flavour profiles, and the structure of the wine has mellowed. As always with wine though, there is no black and white rule.
NG: Most wine on the market is meant to be consumed within three years. For the ones that are worth cellaring I usually look at seven to ten years, potentially even 15 for some (especially if it’s a very well made wine). A very small amount of wines on the market would benefit from an even longer cellaring. Ideally you would purchase a few bottles that you can try at a regular interval of times to see how the wine changes and improves every year.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about cellaring wine?
PS: I always stress to my customers before they start collecting wines, to understand the flavour profile of aged wines, These wines lose a lot of the primary flavour (fruits) and gain tremendous secondary and tertiary notes that can be described as vegetable garden, barnyard, forest floor or even medicinal characters. If you do intend on cellaring wines, it is always best to buy in multiples of at least three to be able to taste it throughout its progression.
MR: Experiencing a properly aged bottle of wine can be an incredible experience. Much like listening to an original Beatles LP rather than a digitally re-mastered MP3 version, there are nuances and intricacies that can be reveled in by an avid listener or drinker. Every wine will develop differently, which is half the fun. Enjoying each experience as a moment, even if it’s the same wine three or five years later, is what it’s all about. There are two very important things to remember when cellaring:
1. Store your wine in a consistently dark place with a stable temperature.
2. Stop and smell the roses. If you have waited seven to ten years to open a bottle, give it the attention it deserves.
The Wine Picks
Peter Smolarz Fine Wine Director, Willow Park Wines & Spirits
Château Smith Haut-Lafitte 2010 Grand Vin Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France $210
Tolaini 2009 Picconero, Tuscany, Italy $80
Pingus 2011 Flor de Pingus, Ribera del Duero, Spain $117
Taittinger 2004 Comtes de Champagne Rosé, Champagne, France $300
Mike Roberts Sommelier Manager, Co-op Wine Spirits Beer
M. Chapoutier 2011 Chante Alouette, Hermitage, France $90
Longview 2010 Yakka Shiraz, Adelaide Hills, Australia $27
Domdechant Werner Hochheimer 2012 Kabinett, Rheingau, Germany $27
Ruffino 2009 Riserva Ducale Oro, Chianti Classico, Riserva, Italy $40
Nathalie Gosselin Chief Experience Designer, Vine Styles
Camaraderie Cellars 2008 Merlot, Yakima, Washington $37
G.D. Vajra 2010 Barolo Ravera, Piedmont, Italy $77
Signorello Estate 2010 Padrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California $192
Les Halos de Jupiter 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc, France $67