Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Starting a Modest Wine Cellar

As a particular year of a particular wine sells out and the new vintage is released we end up with two wines from the same winery from two different years of production. Conveniently, this occurred with a two different wines right around the same time that a friend of mine expressed interest in perhaps starting a cellar. A perfect excuse for a tasting in the name of education.

Six of us got together to taste through four different bottles: the Yalumba Bushvine Grenache from 2007 and 2010 along with the 2005 and 2007 Cuvee Bastien from Domaine Fontaine, a malbec from Cahors. I wasn’t sure how all of the wines would show, but I at least knew that they would illustrate a point in what happens as a result of bottle age and different vintages. What ended up happening, to my surprise, was that the wine I had the least faith in, the Yalumba 2007 Bushvine Grenache, was agreed upon to be the crowd favorite. The 2010 of the same wine showed a certain brashness that would have been less noticeable if it had been tasted on its own. Second on the list of favorites was the 2005 Fontaine, due to its 2007 incarnation showed much more prominent tannin.

This was not the first time where I’ve seen modestly priced wines aging well and it helped reinforced the belief I have that one does not need a boatload of cash to be able to have a ‘wine cellar’ or age wine. The Yalumba, for example, has a shelf price of $17.99 and the Cuvee Bastien I have seen priced from $14.99 to $18.99. I used to think, and imagine many others currently do, that you would have to spend some serious coin to be able to age wine. This tasting was a great example of how well wines under $20 that were 5 and 7 years old, respectively, showed. The trick of course is finding wine capable of aging well as not just anything will.

What a wine needs to age is some sort of preserving element and the natural elements found in wine are tannin, acid, or sugar. These elements are needed in balance, so that means Barefoot Moscato is not gonna hang on. And I certainly don’t have a lot of faith in Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon either. Mondavi’s Woodbridge Riesling? Hell no.

Step one: buy a bottle of wine.
Step two: have a glass, but just one.
Step three: put the cork back in the bottle and taste it again the next day.
Step four: repeat step three until you run out of wine or it starts tasting bad.

At the store we’ve tried $16 wines from the Canary Islands that were delicious as far as four days out. Domaine de la Pinte’s 2005 Savagnin peaked after four days. $35 a bottle, not cheap, but nowhere near Grand Cru Burgundy or 1st Growth Bordeaux. Now this isn’t going to give you a precise time of how long a wine can go, but it will give you an idea.

Do a little homework to find reputable producers and spend $12 to $25 dollars per bottle. With tannin from the grape skins, reds give you a plentiful supply of options. Italian wines like Chianti, aglianico, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Nebbiolo based wines from the north are all easy options. In France the pinot noir based reds of Burgundy, the wines of the Rhone, Bordeaux, and the reds of the south have varying degrees of potential. The list of possible grapes and regions is just too long to list.

Whites are not as often thought of, but good German, Austrian, or Alsatian riesling has real staying power. Chenin blanc from Loire labeled under Vouvray, Montlouis sur Loire, or Savennieres is some of the most fascinating wine you can find with some age on it. And if you’re going to do chardonnay, Chablis all the way.

The other problem I frequently hear is that people just don’t have the patience to age wine and it’s just too easy to drink. The solution: just don’t drink the wine! Set some wine aside for later consumption (put a don’t drink until date somewhere on the bottle) and some for near term consumption: cellar savers.

Since I’ve only started a cellar in the last two years, and have limited space and finances, this is what I have set aside right now.

  • $15.99 / bottle - Chionetti 2006 Dolcetto di Dogliani (down to 3 bottles from my original case)
  • $17.99 / bottle - Domaine de la Pepiere 2010 Muscadet (6 bottles)
  • ~$16.99 / bottle - Russian River Brewing co. Supplication (10 bottles down from 12)
  • ~$80 / bottle - Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2005 Calderara Sottana (1.5L)
  • ~$54.99 / bottle - Marcel Lapierre 2011 Morgon (1.5L)
  • ~$24.99 / bottle - Domaine Diochan 2008 Moulin a Vent (2 bottles down from... 10 maybe?)

The prices listed are full retail before whatever discounts your retailer may offer. And a few of these I bought on closeout, which means the price was much lower than what the average listed above retail price is. So there are clearly options, and you’ll notice with the third item on the list, even beer options! Explore the wines you already like, figure a budget, and start a modest cellar; you’ll be surprised at the number of years of drinking pleasure you’ll be able to derive from some smart shopping.

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