The biggest mistake I ever made as a young, inexperienced wine drinker was when I chose to keep a bottle of Italian Dolcetto given to me on my 21st birthday by a cousin studying in Italy over the summer. I had no idea at the time that it wasn’t a wine worth cellaring, so I kept it in a cabinet for three years. When I finally opened the bottle, it was no longer the delicate, juicy wine of its youth; it was sour, bitter, and long past its expiration date. I quickly learned that just because a wine is worth buying or drinking doesn’t mean it’s worth aging. While you’re in the process of starting your own collection, you need to know which wine varietals are best for collecting, and which you’re better off drinking right away or skipping altogether.
Red Wine Varietals
Your safest bet for collectible wines are deep red varietals with plenty of tannins. That’s because the tannin allows the wine to age for decades without spoiling, and the depth of the flavors becomes more complex as time goes on, even while the wine loses some of its intensity. It’s natural for red wines to lose potency the longer they age; they become thinner, and their flavors mellow out. If the flavors of a wine are soft in its youth, chances are that wine won’t age well because it will taste watered down decades later. However, red wine with rich intensity will almost always retain some of that intensity even 20 years later.
There’s a reason why most serious collectors have this varietal in their cellars. Cabernet is a bold, tannic wine varietal that is one of the most widely-planted grapes in the world. It grows well in hot climates, especially in regions like California, and as a result, these grapes usually have a high concentration of fruit flavors and sugar. What makes this a varietal worth collecting, along with its excellent aging potential, is the high demand for Cabernet on the wine market. Grapes sell for $6,000 per ton on average, compared to $1,300 per ton of Merlot grown in the same areas. Although you’ll pay more for Cabernet than you will for Merlot, you can also resell this varietal on the market later for a higher price, especially if you buy the wine young and store it professionally for at least 10 years. For the best results, invest in California cult Cabernet.
Syrah vintages are even darker and bolder than Cabernet, making them ideal picks for beginning collectors. High-quality vintages can stay in a cellar for as long as 25 years, and most of these wines will hold up well for at least five years. Choosing a region to buy Syrah from comes down to personal taste; most Old World Syrah vintages from regions like Rhone are more acidic, while New World Syrah from California or Australia is more fruit-driven. Like Cabernet, the best Syrah to invest in comes from estates that have earned a cult-status following in the New World, but you’ll also want to consider classic wines from Northern Rhone as well.
White Wine Varietals
If you’re looking for wines to cellar for several years or more, you’re fairly safe investing in most red wines that are high in tannins, but white wines are far more complicated. The more the wine is exposed to oxygen over time, the higher the likelihood that it will spoil, producing a vinegar-like taste. Generally, you don’t decant white wine at all because it is highly susceptible to oxidation. While you can find lower-quality red wines–like Syrah vintages–that will last as long as five years in a cellar, with white wines you’ll want to invest only in the finest vintages from the top estates in order to ensure your wines will age well.
Although Riesling is a lighter white wine than Chardonnay, it often ages well in a cellar if it tastes fresh and crisp in its youth. This freshness comes from its late ripening on the vine; the best Riesling only grows in cooler climates when it has the chance to grow slowly. Only invest in Riesling from cold weather vintages, and in regions of Germany, where the climate is consistently cool. If you buy fine Riesling from a good vintage, you can easily cellar it for your entire lifetime.
Here’s an easy rule to remember when shopping for Chardonnay: if it tastes flavorful and perfect now, it might not be worth cellaring. That’s because vintages that are creamy and heavy in oak are better drunk young, while those that are cleaner will develop more complex flavors as they age. Generally, any Chardonnay that costs less than $100 per bottle will not age beyond a handful of years, so it’s best to spend extra on the vintages with better aging potential. Stick with Chardonnay from French regions like Corton-Charlemagne and Montrachet.
Critic Robert Parker has often claimed that the only sparkling wine worth keeping for long-term investments is vintage Champagne. He says, “I think if its producers were honest, they would admit that most non-vintage wines are meant to be consumed within 30 minutes of leaving the Champagne house.” The finest bottles of Champagne made during the best years can last more than 30 years in a cellar, but only if you buy from the highest-quality estates in Champagne. It’s better to save up for classic vintages, rather than investing in off vintages.
In addition to red and white grape varietals, you’ll want to start your collection off with a few varietal blends from three regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Tuscany. Most Bordeaux is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Bordeaux still holds the title for producing the most expensive wine bottle ever sold when a single bottle of Lafite snagged $160,000 at auction. Burgundy is similarly sought-after on the wine market, and is made with a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, however, one of the most popular Burgundy blends among collectors is white Burgundy, which is made from a blend of Chardonnay and Aligote. Once you have a collection of red Bordeaux and white Burgundy, you’ll want to consider adding a Super Tuscan from Italy to your collection. These are made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and a small percentage of other varietals for added flavor. They age for decades in a cellar, and have become a popular choice among seasoned collectors.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.
Image source: Wikimedia CC user Geographer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40838226
At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most
treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of
passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles–we love sharing a great
glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a
Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.