Let’s make a confession up front: Most wine lovers get excited about a bargain. Find a delicious $14.99 gem that complements homemade pizza or pasta and you’re in heaven. You might buy a case and dream up reasons to invite friends over to pop lots of corks. Instant gratification is great, but serious wine lovers also like to plan for the future by discovering and buying age-worthy wines for the wine cellar that pay dividends later in the form of sublime experiences.
The Basics of What Makes Wine Age-Worthy
“It is only worth ageing a wine with lots of tannin (which puckers the inside of your cheeks a bit like cold tea) if there is enough fruit to support it as it decreases with age in bottle,” the British wine writer Jancis Robinson says.
While warning that tannins can outlast the fruit when less superior vintages are cellared, Robinson explains that red Bordeaux generally benefits from longer aging than red Burgundy because “red Bordeaux is naturally more tannic than red Burgundy (Cabernet and Merlot grapes generally have thicker skins than Pinot Noir).”
The online wine marketplace and popular app Vivino agrees about the ideal drinking window for those two titans among wine-cellar-worthy wines.
In its comprehensive guide to how long different wines should be aged, Vivino describes red Burgundies coming into their prime after 12 to 15 years if stored in a professional wine cellar design, while advising the cellaring of fine red Bordeaux for 20-plus years.
One of the best straightforward explanations of why certain wines improve with age comes from Wine Folly.
“Finding wines that will improve over time requires that you pay attention to a wine’s structure,” says Wine Folly, explaining that age-worthy wines must have fruit, acidity, tannins, and alcohol level in balance.
Noble Reds for the Wine Cellar
Jancis Robinson’s notes on aging red Bordeaux vs. pinot noir point to why Cabernets and top Cab-Merlot blends from California and other prime wine regions are also prime candidates for cellaring.
The generally accepted list of other prominent red wines that have proven age-worthy goes like this:
- Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône wines, notably Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape.
- Spanish Tempranillo, especially from the Rioja region.
- Italian Barolo and Barbaresco
- Italian Brunello and really noble examples of Chianti
Vivino’s handy aging chart nicely describes the grape varieties in each of these wines, as well as detailing their flavor profiles.
Don’t feel limited by this canon of wine cellar reds, though. A 2019 Forbes story highlights age-worthy wines from unexpected regions, noting that the benefits of branching out include not having to compete for wines with cult status, and picking up many relative bargains in the process.
Here are the reds Forbes singles out:
- Aglianico from Southern Italy
- Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina
- Touriga Nacional from Douro, Portugal
White Wine Doesn’t Age Well: It’s a Myth
You don’t hear the warning as much as you used to, but there are still skeptics out there who don’t believe white wines age well—despite the fact that vintage Champagne from good years may not really hit its peak until hit has spent a quarter-century in the cellar.
The myth may persist because even the loftiest white wines don’t require nearly the amount of bottle aging as big red wines. Vivino tracks the ideal cellaring times for such wines as white Burgundy, California Chardonnay, vintage Champagne, and Riesling.
Meanwhile, the 2019 Forbes story highlighting age-worthy wines from unexpected regions also suggests laying down some Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, saying “off-dry versions in particular can age for 10 or more years, the sugar preserving the wine for the long haul.” Forbes even makes a case for buying Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley for the wine cellar, and none of that even mentions the amazing aging potential of the finest Sherry from Spain.
Natural Wines (Don’t) Live Long and Prosper:
Another Myth Busted
“Menus from Los Angeles to Portland, Maine, are featuring natural wines like never before. And just this month, the James Beard Foundation named Frenchette, a New York bistro known for its low-intervention wine list, as Best New Restaurant,” Forbes magazine says in a recent story.
While the world embraces natural wines, there’s one lingering problem, the prevalence of the idea that natural wines don’t age well.
It’s a myth that took hold around 1999, according to natural wine lover and defender Alice Feiring, who has a new book out on the subject.
“Despite natural wine’s swift rise in popularity, the category still remains one of the most misunderstood in the wine world, which is why Alice Feiring’s new book Natural Wine for The People is so perfectly timed,” says Imbibe magazine. “In the book, Feiring offers an easily digestible exploration of the category while delving into its history and providing a guide to the world’s best producers.”
A hallmark of natural wines is the avoidance of adding Sulphur dioxide to kill bacteria and prevent wine from oxidizing, and to be fair, back in 1999 there were issues that meant natural wines may not have aged well, Feiring explains how that has changed dramatically on her website.
Meanwhile, in a recent story, The Washington Post also discusses the aging potential of natural wines, as well as revealing some great places to drink natural wines.
Strategies for Discovering Age-Worthy Wines
The most exciting new resource for stocking the wine cellar smartly is called Wine Lister, which takes a data-driven approach to identifying the best buys for the cellar. It just launched a new consumer-oriented website offering free access to what’s billed as “the world’s most comprehensive fine wine data hub.”
Under the branding “wines you MUST BUY for your cellar,” Wine Lister offers recommendations based on a combination of “human intelligence (such as the opinion of key members of the global fine wine trade, plus insight from the Wine Lister team’s trips and tastings), to provide a dynamic list of wines any fine wine buyer should consider for their cellar. All MUST BUYs represent high quality, and value within their respective appellations and vintages.”
Cellar Tracker is another online option offering reviews of age-worthy wines, as well as an “online cellar management tool to track your collection, see its value, and much more.”
The wine press offers a constant stream of information on age-worthy wines, ranging from the Cellar Selections in each issue of The Wine Spectator buying guide, to annual lists of the top 50 or top 100 age-worthy wines. Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Cellar Selections of 2018 is filled with interesting recommendations, such as a Chenin Blanc from South Africa and a Shiraz-Cabernet blend from Australia.
Another great strategy is more hands-on. Simply connect with a trusted wine merchant or broker. Ben Wallace, the owner of the Cellaraiders, a fine and rare wine broker that sources and stocks older wines, is one of many such great resources, and within the Summit Wine Cellars’ home geography, The Wine Connection in Pound Ridge, N.Y., is a great shop for stocking the cellar.
The Last Essential: A Wine Cellar Design to Cradle the Collection
Fred Tregaskis and Summit Wine Cellars, LLC, (https://summit-cellars.com) have created dramatic custom wine cellars for clients throughout the world, from Maine to California, and Bangalore to Buenos Aries.
Summit Wine Cellars has its own dedicated manufacturing facility in Connecticut, where expert craftsmen fabricate all the components—in wood, metal, glass and other materials. Those bespoke components of each unique cellar are shipped to each cellar location and assembled there by Summit Wine Cellars, before the final flourishes and finishing touches are added.
“I think it’s important that the wine cellar be fun because wine itself is fun. It should be generous and big and a cool place to go hangout,” says Tregaskis. “It’s the wine that’s the star of the show. I’m really making a pedestal for the wine.”
To learn more about Summit Wine Cellars, LLC and the wine cellar design process, contact Summit Wine Cellars by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 203-916-1664. Make sure to see the Portfolio page for examples of Summit’s traditional and modern wine cellar design.