So you’ve started a wine cellar. A couple of months in, and you’ve already opened a few bottles you were planning on saving for years and years. No big deal, since the whole point is to actually enjoy your cellar, discover your own palate and drink some good wine. Sneaking a few bottles here and there before their time however, can really drain the piggy bank in a hurry. It’s a basic fact that when you decide to open a second bottle in the wee hours of a great evening it is always a more precious bottle than the first one. I have two suggestions for combating this dilemma. The first is to move to a digestif aka some good whisky or a port/madeira type dessert wine after finishing the first bottle. The second is to keep the cellar stocked with some slightly more affordable bottles that won’t make you mourn if you drink them early, are reliable from year to year, and still age over a period of 10-20 years and will educate your palate as you watch them age. I’ve found a few $20 favorites that I stick to, and of course there are many more out there.
Big Bold Red Fruit Bombs
A lot of wines in this category have a fake fruit that doesn’t hold up to age, or are so sturdy that they barely evolve, and just sort of drift off into a gooey blueberry jam mess. Two wines that show evolution and are delicious at every point during their first 10 years are d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz and Achaval Ferrer Malbec. I’ve had the fortune of trying Footbolt from the early 90’s recently and it still has great fruit being held up by some nice mature, earthy notes.
Juicy, Balanced Reds
Not surprisingly we’re going to Europe for these two, Masi Campofiorin and Clos de la Roilette Fleurie. While Masi may seem like a commodity wine that must be industrial and therefore lack character, the most recent vintages of 2006 and 2007 have a lot of stuffing for the price and will be fresh still 10 years from now. Cru Beaujolais is the great wine steal for cellarists, and occasionally I see positive tasting notes for this wine from vintages in the first half of the 1900’s, still going strong over 50 years later.
Deep Dark Tannic Reds
Selvapiana Chianti and Bernard Baudry Chinon are a bit harder to come by than some of the wines above, but are worth searching after to experience the layers of complexity these wines bring, as well as being surprisingly drinkable in their youth, albeit leaving the mouth a little dry. Sometimes the food on the table is strong enough to tame these wines and make them shine. For me, this is what I reach for when impromptu summer steak barbeques happen.
Tangy Fresh Whites
Riesling is definitely the key word here, since most Rieslings hold up incredibly well over extended periods, whereas wines like Sauvignon Blanc can fade disappointingly fast. My wife prefers the off-dry versions, which means Wild Goose Stony Slope and JJ Christoffel Kabinett.
I try to stay away from the oak here to a degree, since I get nervous about where those wines will go. So many of them start tasting flat after a few years due to the oak flavours not evolving. Thankfully there are plenty that keep the oak tamed. Perrin Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc is delicious served chilled in the summer or at room temperature in the winter with chowder. Even better at 10 years at room temperature. Brokenwood Semillon gets fresher as it ages and develops a nice smooth mouthfeel.