Wines to Collect
There are really only two reasons to put perfectly good bottles away in a cellar: because the wines will gain complexity with age and because the resale value will rise. Any wine that meets both these criteria rates as a "classic collectible."
What happens when a wine ages? Most decent wines will hold together for two or three years. However, almost all wines are made to be consumed in their relative youth. Which means that unless a wine improves with age, there's very little reason to hold on to it. And the fact is, only a few wines actually improve. The ones that do will develop more sublime, sometimes even eccentric aromas along with more subtle, nuanced flavors as their youthful fruit fades.
Which wines age best? Most collectors' cellars are packed with red wines, the most famous of which are made from, or based on, the following grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon (mostly Bordeaux, California), Sangiovese (super-Tuscans and Brunello), Pinot Noir ( Burgundy), Syrah (from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie), Nebbiolo (from Barolo and Barbaresco in Italy). Sweet wines like Madeira, port and Sauternes can also come close to immortality. Of course, exceptions abound: a lively 100-year-old Mosel Riesling from Germany, for example, or a pre-World War II Champagne.
Which wines have the best resale value? In general, the so-called blue chips are always the safest bet. These are the wines you will see most often at auction, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa Valley Cabernet. But remember, their valuations, like blue-chip stocks, go up and down. My rule of thumb? I never buy a wine that would make me cry if I had to drink it, not sell it.
10 Wines to Collect
1998 Dominus ($100) Never mind the iffy reputation of California's 1998 vintage. This lovely wine has great power and finesse--not to mention considerable staying power.
1998 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($140) This estate attracted a cult following under the late Jacques Reynaud. While the 1997 is a classic, the 1998 is simply seductive, with intricate, complex flavors. It will be an auction gem.
1997 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto ($150) A dense, tooth-coating, single-vineyard Barolo from traditionalist Piedmontese master Giacosa. Definitely for lovers of big, rich, full-scale red wine.
1995 il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($71) A 36-month stay in oak has softened this wine so much it takes a little time to realize how young it is. Made from old-vine fruit, it is a noble wine to cellar by the case.
1998 Château Haut-Brion ($225) Although the 1998 may be overshadowed by the hyped-up 2000 vintage, this is an impressive, layered wine to lay down for 25 years.
1999 Torbreck Run Rig ($180) This dense, brooding Aussie will redefine your sense of Syrah. With a nose of crushed blackberry, chocolate and vanilla, it's still very young.
1996 Torre Muga ($55) This "super-Rioja" is made from tiny selected lots and aged for 38 months in oak. The overall effect is aristocratic, like a Bordeaux from a ripe, generous vintage.
1993 Dom Perignon ($115) This Champagne house doesn't produce knock-your-socks-off blockbusters, but instead makes creamy, rich, impeccably balanced wines, like this one.
1996 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta ($50) This seamless beauty (made in Chile) is from Bordeaux's roving genius-consultant Michel Rolland. Elegant, smooth, with sweet, plump fruit, you can cellar it--if you can resist drinking it.
1999 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ($40) The reason you can enjoy a wine so concentrated, elegant and mouth-filling at this price is that most big-ticket white wine buyers drink Chardonnay. Bless their hearts.
Wines to Drink Now
Most wines are made to be enjoyed as soon as they hit the store shelves. This includes nearly all white wines, sparkling wines and rosés, and all but the priciest reds. What makes these wines all so drinkable? For starters, they aren't likely to be puckeringly tannic or punishingly acidic--their flavors and aromas are fully evolved. And you pay only for what's in the bottle today, not for its future promise. In short, drink that $10 Merlot today: It won't get much better than it is right now.
Why are so many wines best drunk young? Many of the world's wines--from Bordeaux first growths to South African Pinotage--are drinkable earlier than ever before. There are good reasons for this, among them better vineyard care that allows growers to harvest later and pick riper fruit. However, in some cases, it could be thanks to technical manipulations such as acid adjustments, oak "enhancements" (wood chips) and filtering. Wines made with these techniques are often so bland they could come from anywhere. Biggest offenders include American jug wines, nearly all White Zinfandel and cheap wines from France's Pays d'Oc. You're better off with less expensive wines from Australia, Chile and Italy, nonvintage Champagnes or simple Côtes-du-Rhônes.
Why are young wines food-friendly? Drink-tonight wines are often the most food-friendly options, especially when it comes to pairing with complex or spicy dishes. An old top-notch Bordeaux, lovingly decanted, should be the star unto itself; it needs a meal that won't overwhelm it. Conversely, a young red loaded with fruit and acidity can still express its personality when paired with Chinese shredded beef with garlic sauce or grilled tuna with salsa.
10 Wines to Drink Now
Nonvintage Pommery Champagne ($33) This Champagne house makes a nonvintage wine that's at the lighter, drier end of the spectrum. The result is lively, crisp and refreshing.
2000 Paul Blanck Riesling ($17) This winery makes great, ageworthy Grand Cru Rieslings as well as this soft, fruity wine that's meant for early drinking.
1999 Undurraga Colchagua Valley Merlot ($14) This affordable, medium-bodied Merlot conveys the juicy, black-cherry flavors that made Merlot famous.
1999 Jaboulet Côtes-du-Rhône Parallèle 45 ($10) Year after year, Jaboulet makes one of the wine world's most reliable buys. The juicy, soft 1999 is dense enough for red meat and light enough for cold-chicken leftovers.
1999 Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti ($12) Piedmontese progressive Michele Chiarlo makes a silky, sweet-tannin wine chock-full of cherry and mildly tart strawberry flavors. It may not please traditionalists, but it will definitely charm at dinner tonight.
1999 Rosemount "Hill of Gold" Mudgee Shiraz ($19) Australian giant Rosemount has turned out a startlingly rich, spicy, seductive wine whose aromas practically whoosh out of the bottle.
1997 Château Greysac Médoc ($15) Bordeaux's 1997 petits châteaux wines are eminently drinkable right now. The Greysac is especially attractive thanks to its extra plump 50 percent Merlot.
1999 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico ($21) The simplest Chianti from Coltibuono is a hearty red that's just right with a grilled hamburger or a lamb chop. Marked by the region's trademark sweet- and sour-cherry fruit and a firm, lean core.
1998 Conde de Valdemar Rioja Crianza ($10) Crianzas of Rioja, Spain, are made in a style that emphasizes youthful fruit. This medium- to light-bodied red is no exception, featuring well-integrated tart cherry fruit.
1998 St. Supéry Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) This smooth Cab is restrained and elegant, yet brimming with sweet black plum and currant fruit.