One of the tough lessons of having a wine cellar is that over the years the wines and specifically the wine styles you like are constantly changing. For me, the early bottles I placed in my cellar were the wines that had sophisticated sounding French or Italian names, which I naturally assumed would age best. After getting into wine for a year or two and expanding my palate, I found that I was into the wines that were really fruity, bold and just plain delicious. Disheartened about what was in my cellar, I drank up most of the first case I had bought. Of course several years later and my palate has once again come full circle. Now I do my best to put wines in the cellar of all shapes and sizes and flavours, and hope for the best. I try to keep a balance between what I consider to be the basic styles.
Big Bold Red Fruit Bombs
This category would be typically a lot of wines from Australia, Spain, Argentina and to a lesser degree the US. These are the wines to knock your socks off – I usually go with something rated highly by the critic Robert Parker in this category and I know I’m getting something with gobs of fruit and sweet oaky richness.
Juicy, Balanced Reds
At the opposite end of the spectrum is where ironically you can often find the most intriguing flavours, since these are usually wines of subtlety and don’t hit your mouth like a freight train but instead like a silk cloth. They usually get even silkier when they’re old. For me this section involves wines from Burgundy, Beaujolais, Valpolicella, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and New Zealand.
Deep Dark Tannic Reds
These are the wines that are built like Arnold in the early 80’s, and if you drink them young your mouth is left feeling like you’ve been chewing on an old piece of leather. Usually these wines have been aged for long periods in oak of some kind and some of them age forever. Bordeaux, Tuscan Reds, Barolo, South Africa, frankly a lot of wines from the entire world fit this category.
Tangy Fresh Whites
Summer wines that you would pull out and drink on the patio. A lot of what you will find in this category is probably not meant to be put away for extended periods, but the ones that do age can be pretty damn interesting. The biggest candidate here for the cellar is German whites; many of these wines paradoxically start tasting younger as they age. Australian Riesling, Spanish Albarino and Muscadet all work in the cellar. The other wine I consider part of this category is Champagne. Always have a bottle or two of that stuff around.
Whether you like them oaky or not, both types of full bodied whites should find a place in your wine cellar. Chardonnay is the workhorse of this category and is made in every style on every continent. White Bordeaux, Rhone wines and Alsace fill out a lot of the other options.
Sticky Dessert Wines
The surest thing in the wine cellar since sugar is the best wine preserver of all. You can forget your Sauternes, Port, or other dessert wines in the cellar for decades, or if you must you can open them tonight and be wooed by the golden sweet flavour. Enjoy!