If you plan to age your wines over time, history is a better guide than flavor-of-the-month trends. Ray Isle seeks out a dozen great bottles to drink now or stash away for years.
Mention the words "wine cellar" to someone, and they’ll likely envision some sort of crepuscular stone vault, possibly under a Scottish castle, dimly lit and filled with dust-covered bottles from decades past. That’s great, if you’re a Scottish laird or whatever; strangely (and, I’ve always felt, unfairly), most of us aren’t.
The truth about cellaring wine is that you do not need a cellar. All you really need is cool, constant temperature, about 55 to 60 degrees or so. A wine fridge works great—there are innumerable models. A chilly basement, so much the better. Most of my own wine is in a warehouse in New Jersey with a company called Nest Egg. Like many other wine-storage firms around the country, they do an excellent job of keeping the bottles cool, cataloging them, and delivering me a case when I need it (for a fee, of course).
There are other myths about cellaring wine worth putting to rest, too. One, for instance, is that any wine you put away will need decades to reach its peak. In truth, and especially for whites, five or six years will often lead to fascinating changes.
Something else to consider is that plenty of ageworthy wines are neither spectacularly expensive Bordeaux first-growths nor the hard-to-find “unicorn” bottles that sommeliers lately trample each other to get. Classics are classics for a reason: a track record of quality over dozens of vintages and a proven ability to change and develop (for the better) over time in a cellar. Here are 12 to seek out—all are delicious now, but wouldn’t it be fun to see where they go over time?
2016 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc ($38)
People rarely think to cellar Sauvignon Blanc, but this lemon-guava scented version from one of Napa Valley’s most historic producers only becomes more compelling over time. It’s fully drinkable now, but stash it away for four or five years and then give it a try.
2016 Domaine Huet le Mont Sec Vouvray ($40)
Vouvray is one of the world’s most ageworthy white wines. Dry (“sec”) versions, like this pear-inflected, floral bottling from one of the appellation’s most storied producers, take on more richness and honeyed notes as they age.
2015 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Smaragd ($40)
Minerally Austrian Grüner Veltliner gets even more savory as it ages, taking on toasty and creamy notes. Pichler’s basic Terrassen bottling, floral and peppery, is at the level of many other producers’ single- vineyard wines. It should develop for a decade easily.
2015 Stony Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay ($48)
Since the winery’s first vintage in 1952, Stony Hill’s nuanced Chardonnays have stood apart from other California versions— restrained and tautly focused, they improve for years. The 2015 is lovely now, with fragrant green apple notes and brilliant acidity, but will only add layers of flavor in years to come (for the impatient, the winery also currently sells the 2009 through its website).
2015 Antinori Cervaro Della Sala ($55)
At a recent tasting in New York, this Umbrian blend of Chardonnay and the local Grechetto grape proved that it can age effortlessly for at least 25 years: The 1988 vintage was still full of life. (And in fact the wine really comes into its own after five years or so, as its initially straightforward citrus flavors turn nutty and complex.)
2015 Schloss Johannisberg Silberlack Riesling Trocken GG ($75)
When Schloss Johannisberg was founded, the Crusades were still going on. Nine hundred years later, the property is still growing grapes and making thrilling Rieslings like this peach-scented, stony (and entirely dry) bottling. Over time its complexity will only deepen.
2013 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Rouge ($34)
Château de Beaucastel’s benchmark Châteauneuf-du-Pape runs over $100 a bottle. Winemaker Marc Perrin sources this dark, fruity Côtes du Rhône from vineyards directly across the street from those of his flagship wine, but it costs $70 less. Buy a few bottles, drink some now, and put the rest away for five to 10 years.
2014 Château Meyney ($39)
I’ve been buying and aging Meyney’s tobacco-y, polished Bordeaux red for years. It’s a perennial cellar bargain, and in recent vintages—like this powerful 2014—the château is making some of its best wine ever. As for how long Meyney lasts, recently the 1989 was still tasting great.
2014 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas ($39)
This is a classic, old-school Gigondas from a fifth-generation family producer, full of dark cherry and white pepper notes. Lush and rich now, it will get spicier and more exotic over the next decade or even a bit longer.
2014 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-St-Georges ($66)
What to do about Burgundy? The top crus cost a king’s ransom, and many basic Bourgogne rouges are uninspiring. But village bottlings from great producers like Gouges, while not cheap, can be spectacular after five to 10 years (case in point, the seductive 2005 vintage right now).
2012 Tasca D’Almerita Rosso del Conte ($70)
Created in the late 1960s by Count Giuseppe Tasca, this Nero d’Avola– based red proved that Sicily could produce world-class wines, not just simple quaffers. Robustly tannic when young, over time (up to 20 years or so) it softens and takes on luscious dried black cherry and warm spice notes.
2013 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($170)
Beringer’s classic Private Reserve bottling doesn’t have the flavor-of-the-month cachet of some cult Napa Valley brands, but it remains one of the region’s top reds. In 2013 it’s formidably intense, with layers of sweet blackberry fruit and massive tannins. (Note that vintages going back to the 1980s can often be found for a good price—but as always, make sure they were stored well.)