Skip navigation

Wines that won't outlive you

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

I regret having to break the news: Boomers are not going to live forever.

Yet by the way some are collecting wine, you'd think they were planning to be around to toast their grandchildren's golden wedding anniversaries.

It's not so much the quantity as the mix that's the problem. Some wine grapes and styles evolve more slowly than others.

Expensive red Bordeaux, vintage port and syrah-based wines from the northern Rhône Valley such as Côte-Rôtie, for example, generally need 20 years, preferably more, to shed their baby fat and reach full maturity.

Drink them sooner and you risk encountering astringent tannins, natural preservative particles that can obscure underlying fruit flavours - fruit flavours you paid an arm and a leg for in the first place.

The math is stark.

Sixty-year-old collectors won't get a fair return on much of their wine investment until they are dining on low-sodium chicken soup in a retirement home.

By then their octogenarian palates might even crave something sweeter, like cream sherry, which coincidentally would be a better match for the soup.

So, what's a collector to do? Buy wines that will pay dividends sooner.

What would a smart "10-year cellar" look like? First and foremost, it would be anchored in the southern Rhône, a broad swath of vine-strewn territory in southeast France. This is the home of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a renowned appellation that includes many producers making some of the most seductive full-bodied reds in Europe.

Though often approachable upon release, good Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds tend quickly to take on sublime "secondary" flavours of leather, mushroom and tobacco. After 10 to 15 years, the wines can deliver an underpinning of voluptuous dark fruits, herbs and spice, hallmarks of the three main grapes on which the wine tends to be based: grenache, syrah and mourvèdre.

"It's as if they reach that point and they explode in the glass," says Mark Moffatt, a Toronto sommelier who has just launched a wine-education and consulting company called Dine N' Vines. "You couldn't ask for better delivery at that price after 10 years."

Good Châteauneuf-du-Pape tends to range from $45 to $90. While hardly dirt cheap, it's widely considered among the world's best values in serious, cellar-worthy red wine.

"I think it's probably the best deal out there on the market right now for wines that have potential for immediate enjoyment but also for that 10-year window," says Robert Herman, general manager and sommelier of Voya restaurant in the Loden hotel in Vancouver.

Among Mr. Moffatt's and Mr. Herman's favourite Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers is Domaine du Pegau, about $65. Other consistently good makers include Le Vieux Donjon, Domaine de la Janasse, Clos des Papes and Château de Beaucastel. All are available only sporadically across the country. I am also a big fan of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, whose good 2006 vintage will be released in Ontario this Saturday at $72.95.

But the vaunted Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation isn't the only cellar-worthy zone in the southern Rhône. Two others are Gigondas and Vacqueyras, also based on grenache, syrah and mourvèdre. Some favourites: Les Hauts de Montmirail, Domaine des Bosquets, Domaine Santa Duc and Domaine La Bouissiere.

In good years, such as the recent 2007 harvest, even generic Côtes-du-Rhône wines make good candidates for short-term cellaring. Best of all, they're typically priced between $15 and $30. In the overachiever category are Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Château de Fonsalette, Domaine Gramenon and Clos du Caillou. Mr. Herman is also a fan of Saint Cosme.

The more rarefied choice for short- to medium-term cellaring is red Burgundy, as most collectors know. While the best can age nicely for 40 years or so (and sadly will cost as much as great Bordeaux), most Burgundy, based on light-skinned pinot noir, blossom much sooner. There is even an axiom in wine circles that says you can't go wrong opening a pinot noir six years after harvest.

But good Burgundy is invariably expensive and hard to find. It's also a bit of a crapshoot because of wild swings in vintage quality, among other things. Top boutique producers include Domaine Comte Armand, Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine Leroy, Domaine Dujac and - don't expect to find it in Canadian stores - Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Reliable large producers include Bouchard Père & Fils, Louis Jadot and Joseph Drouhin.

Twenty-five years ago, a column on cellaring would have been unlikely to include the word Chianti. But the wine has undergone leaps in quality. Today, most good Chiantis can be splendid at five to seven years of age. Some can develop handsomely for 10 years or more, though I find the fruit flavours of the moderately tannic sangiovese grape have a tendency to dry out and taste thin or unpleasantly prune-like after much longer than that. Fine producers include Fontodi, Isole e Olena, Castello dei Rampolla and Querciabella, all around the $30 mark. But more affordable names such as Frescobaldi's Nipozzano Chianti Riserva, at about $22, have been known to age agreeably for 10 years or more.

Mr. Herman's other European choices for a 10-year horizon include dry red table wines from the Douro region of Portugal. An excellent bet is Quinta do Crasto Douro Reserva Old Vines, at about $35.

European wines tend to be the cellar mainstays because the continent has a well-established track record. But many New World wines can pay dividends, if not quite on the level of the most elegant Bordeaux.

Mr. Herman cites cabernet sauvignons from Australia's Coonawarra region. Both he and I have tasted vintages of a $20 red, Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, dating back to the 1960s and have been surprised. "The wines were still stunning," he says. He also likes a few Chilean cabernet sauvignons, such as Cousino Macul Antiguas Reservas, at about $20 a bottle.

Mr. Moffatt says he's putting his own money on "Bordeaux-style" cabernet sauvignons, merlots and cabernet francs from British Columbia's Okanagan Valley as well as on syrahs from South Africa's Stellenbosch region. He recently popped the cork at home on two top Okanagan reds from the 2002 vintage, Mission Hill Oculus and Osoyoos Larose, and says they were still brimming with fresh fruit and acidity. "We've got a good five to seven years more on those and beyond," he says.

And while some collectors overlook whites, several varieties, notably riesling, can pay dividends with 10 years of cellaring. Both Mr. Moffatt and Mr. Herman are fans of classic German and Alsatian riesling, with its opulent fruit and balancing acidity. Like me, they've been impressed with 10- and 15-year-old Niagara rieslings, too.

"I try not to tout the rieslings too much because I like the prices where they are," Mr. Herman says.

Recommend this article? 10 votes

Back to top