By Jean-Marie SIMART, Director of the Vintec Club
Sixteen years ago a survey ordered by the wine industry had found that on average, a bottle of wine in Australia was kept less than 24h after its purchase.
I don’t know the present statistics but I would be ready to bet some of my best bottles that a bottle purchased today has a longer life expectancy in Australia households.
But if all wines must be kept in an appropriate environment, not all wines are worth cellaring.
What does cellaring mean?
There is no official definition but it would be reasonable to say that it is to store a wine for several years until it reaches its peak (cellaring wines as an investment is not part of this article).
A wine is a living product which changes with time to become the final product wanted by the winemaker.
As a general rule, the Australian winemakers are viewed as making their wines to be drunk in their first few years while the French, Italian and Spanish tend to make their wines for longer maturity.
How to select wines which will improve along the years? The first sources of information are the various books and reviews regularly issued by the professional wine writers: James Halliday, Robert Geddes, Huon Hook, Peter Bourne etc. and the professional magazines: Decanter, Gourmet Traveller Wine, Winestate, and, of course, the famous classification made by Langtons.
So, let’s go through a few recommendations, starting with the whites:
Generally but with many exceptions, the Australian white wines last less than the reds and among the whites the semillon and riesling have a much longer life time than the chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Among our Australian whites, the wines best after 10 years would be the Hunter Valley semillon ( the Braemore by A. Thomas, Tower, Tyrell’s), the chardonnays made by Cullen, Tyrell’s (Vat 47), Leeuwin Estate, Penfolds Yatarna & Bin 8A, Giaconda, Moss Wood, Stonier; the rieslings: The Polish Hill by Grosset, Leeuwin Estate, Leo Buring.
From abroad, the French Bordeaux, made essentially of a combination of sauvignon blanc and semillon can easily be kept ten years and above. Among a few I would recommend Domaine de Chevalier, Doizy Daene and, if you can put more money in: the fabulous chateau Haut Brion and the “Y” made by d’Yquem. The white burgundies: Montrachet, most of the whites from the Rhone Valley as well as the marvellous Italian: Quintarelli bianco.
To stay briefly with the whites: all desert wines can be kept many years and will increase in depth and complexity while aging. Specially recommended: French sauternes, Australian de Bortoli Noble One, all botrytised semillon.
Most white wines, whether they last many years or not are much better when cellared for at least two years.
With the reds we have a much larger panel:
General rule: light wines like pinot noir, grenache, mourvedre have a lifespan shorter than the heavier shiraz, cabernet, merlot. Closer to the ten years mark while the later can be kept for ten, twenty, even fifty years and more for the best ones.
Pinot noirs: in New Zealand, from Central Otago, Felton Road, Gibson Valley Reserve, Mount Difficulty; Australia: Picardy, Giaconda, Domaine A (Tasmania); French burgundies: Santenay, Vosne Romanée, which can be kept much longer as well as many wines from the Rhone Valley.
Shiraz: of course the famous Grange whose first vintage 1951 is still enjoyable (at $40,000 +, I have been told it is still enjoyable) but without going to such extremes, the St Henri, Bin 707, RWT, from Orlando the St Hugo, a real gem the Henshke Henry’s seven, the Thomas Kiss shiraz, the shiraz viognier from Clonakilla and Meerea Park, the Maurice O’Shea shiraz.
The cabernets sauvignon and franc, and the cabernet merlots are all worth keeping a long time very often exceeding the ten years mark.
In Australia, they mainly come from Margaret River: Cullen Diana Madeline, Moss Wood, Howard Park, Vasse Felix; from South Australia: the Penfold Bin 09, Bin 407, all wines made by Clarendon Hills, Wynns John Riddoch; Yarra Valley: Yarra Yarra, Yarra Yerring; Hunter Valley: Lindeman’s St George.
From France, most of the Bordeaux must be kept several years; among the grands crus: Haut Brion, Domaine de Chevalier, Petrus, Cheval Blanc etc. there are nearly no exceptions among the great Bordeaux reds from the Left Bank: do not touch before ten years. Others from the Right Bank, such as St Émilion / Pomerol certain years like 2004, 2006 and 2007 can be drunk now.
From Italy: cabernet franc by Quintarelli (if you can get your hands on some)
The above suggestions are obviously coming from my own journey in the wonderful world of wines but your own choice shouldn’t be limited to these.
The best way to build your long term cellar is to select the wines you like, discuss with the winemaker or the wine merchant to know the best intended maturity and then, take patience by drinking younger wines.
Keep in mind that nearly all wines should be drunk at least after two years from the making, even the rosés from France or my favourite Australian rosés made by Julian Castagna (3 years cellaring recommended).
Interesting further reads:
Do All Wines Age Well: https://www.vintecclub.com/why-some-wines-age-well-and-how-and-why-some-not/
A Guide to Ageing Potentials: https://www.vintecclub.com/ageing-potential/
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