Most wines at your local store are meant to be drunk within a year or so of their vintage. But one thing I learned during my tenure as a rare wine specialist at Christie’s auction house is that if you're only drinking young wines, you're missing out. Certain flavors and aromas are unique to aged wines, and drinking them opens up new levels of enjoyment. And you don't need a collection of painfully expensive Bordeaux or Burgundy (or even a true wine cellar) to get into the game. First, keep these three rules in mind:
Storage matters. No matter what kind of wine you buy, if it’s not stored in the dark at a reasonably consistent temperature, it’s going to go bad. Invest in a wine fridge and stick it in your closet. (Sadly, you'll discover that they only make fridges in one size: too small.)
Buy worthy wines. Good producers almost always make good wines, even in what people call "off vintages." Sure, we could debate the merits of so-and-so’s 2007s, but generally, I’ll take a good producer in an off year rather than the opposite. There are great producers all over the world, not just in the famous, expensive wine regions.
Don’t wait too long. The wines I recommend cellaring will evolve gorgeously in about five years, but that's only a general guideline. Buying a few bottles of each lets you taste along the way to see how things are going.
OK, now you're ready to go shopping. These reasonably priced wines are all worth laying down:
1. Marcel Lapierre Morgon (around $30). Morgon is cru Beaujolais—a far cry from Beaujolais-Villages and in another galaxy from Beaujolais Nouveau. Domaine Lapierre makes a textured, structured wine widely considered one of the best of the region. When it ages, it takes on a funky complexity that brings to mind good Burgundy (which costs a lot more). But there is an earthiness, combined with a fresh fruit, that you can only find in aged Beaujolais. We’ve even heard stories of old bottles going 50 years with no problems.
2. Domaine de la Pépière Clisson Muscadet (around $26). Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape near Nantes in western France, Muscadet is generally thought of as the crisp, refreshing (and somewhat boring) classic pairing for oysters. But Pépière’s Clisson is a fantastic outlier that can last up to 20 years (though with just three to five, it will gain a depth and complexity that is very un-Muscadet-like). Like some people, as time goes by the wine seems to take on weight. What was once an oyster wine now pairs comfortably with fried chicken.
3. Domaine aux Moines Roche aux Moines Savennières (around $25-$40). Produced by the mother-daughter pair of Monique and Tessa Laroche, Roche aux Moines is a dry, 100 percent Chenin Blanc wine grown on the north bank of the Loire just southwest of the city of Angers. Domaine aux Moines makes a wine with loads of minerality, a healthy dollop of acidity and what the French call nervosité (which means nervousness, in a good way). The Domaine releases back vintages, so it’s not difficult to find the ’99, ’94 and even the ’92 in the market. As the wine ages, it develops a sort of pleasant waxiness on the palate, and the flavors deepen and develop. Try an older vintage, and if you enjoy it, start stocking it away on your own.
4. Joh. Jos. Prum Kabinett Riesling (around $25). Prum has long been considered a giant of German Riesling. The producer makes wine that can age for decades, and anyone who has tried an old one knows the sort of bewitching petrol aromas old Riesling can develop. Their entry-level Kabinett (without a vineyard and village designation, such as Wehlener Sonnenuhr) performs well above its pedigree.
5. Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Champagne (around $55). Traditionally, vintage-dated Champagne is what made its way into the cellar, but good examples of non-vintage wine can also benefit from a few years. Aged champagne takes on a deliciously yeasty, nutty taste. And aging a Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, can result in the types of apple custard flavors often associated with the other famous Chardonnay wine, white Burgundy.
6. Bruno Giacosa Valmaggiore Nebbiolo d’Alba (about $33). Nebbiolo is the grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco, the famous, pricey Italian wines that can take 20 years (or more) to fully develop. But Giacosa, one of the region's best producers, makes several high-quality wines that age faster and cost a lot less. The classic flavor profile for aged Nebbiolo is tar and roses, but as the high tannins of Nebbiolo start to wane, you get a wonderful dried fruit salad complexity. The acidity—typical for the varietal and partly responsible for its aging ability—shines through.