|PHOTO BY WAYNE CRAWFORD|
Collector red wines
By Wayne Crawford
Over the past eight years, I have been asked to assist in disposing of or selling wines from neighbors and friends – all volunteer work.
Regrettably, the decision to ask for assistance is often long past the projected shelf life for many wines. Most of my efforts are directed to giving the best assessment on wine value and condition, which can be subjective since storage continuity is always in question.
Concurrently, the Big Canoe Wine Group hosted a collector red wine tasting to appreciate and assess the age performance of wines from our collections. As these events came together, it was evident a discussion on aging, storing and collecting wines could prove useful in determining why holding wines has unique value.
In Luke 5:39: “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, 'The old is better.'" The Roman poet Horace, in one of his odes, incorporated this thought by serving a birth-year vintage at a celebration of an honored guest and sharing simple wines for everyday occasions. Apparently, Horace enjoyed wine in moderation and it was said, when contemplating his death, he expressed more concern with leaving his wine cellar than his wife. For the record, my wife is more important than my wine cellar.
Since 2010, the United States has been the largest wine-consuming nation. Annual per capita consumption is around 3.14 gallons per person. We had 8,702-plus wineries in 2015, with 50-plus in Georgia.
Forty percent of the adult population drinks wine, with women leading the way at 57 percent. High-frequency wine drinkers are about 35 percent of the adult population.
Wine industry analysists largely agree 90 percent of the wine we drink is designed to be consumed within one year of production or sooner and 99 percent within five years, depending on storage conditions – more on that topic shortly. My observation is most wine drinkers are buying and consuming within 48 or so hours, perhaps longer if a special occasion is forthcoming.
I encourage buying wine in half or full cases to get discounts and shop to see which retailers offer the best values.
In the USA, the leading varietals for white are chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling and sauvignon blanc, with chenin blanc on the rise. In red wines, the leaders are cabernet sauvignon, blended reds, meritage or Bordeaux, merlot and pinot noir. Rose and champagne/sparkling wines continue to grow in market share.
What are the key aging and storage factors in holding and collecting wines? Jancis Robinson, master of wine and prolific wine writer and educator, collected a baseline on age-ability for selected grapes. Her recommendations from “The Oxford Companion to Wine” might surprise you: chardonnay, two to six years: Riesling, two to 10 years: chenin blanc, three to 25 years; cabernet sauvignon, four to 20 years: blended reds, like Bordeaux, eight to 25 years; merlot, two to10 years; and pinot noir, two to eight years, unless you are looking at Grand Cru Burgundy, eight to 25 years. The varietal – high acidity in whites and high tannins in reds – contributes to age-ability, along with variables such as winemaker craft, barrel aging and home storage. Most branded wines, box wines, jug wines, rose and blush wines, like white zinfandel, have no aging potential, so drink now, enjoy and remember overwhelmingly most wines are ready to drink when you buy them and do not improve with age.
The first step in deciding to hold a wine is understanding the varietal, where it was grown and the objectives of the winemaker. One free resource to help finding the age window is CellarTracker, http://www.cellartracker.com/. I use this site to track the wines in my cellar at a cost based on total wines in storage. In addition, to cross-reference and check comments and age-ability, there is a web application for the smartphone called Corkz, which allows the user to scan barcodes rapidly to access facts on a wine in CellarTracker.
For example, Casanova di Neri 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova, Tuscany, Italy, our group’s selection as the best wine during our tasting and Wine Spectator’s wine of the year in its top 100 poll in 2006, had a tasting window from 2010 to 2020, with average tasting scores around 93.6 on a 100-point scale.
The group’s comments on each wine are also helpful. Most quality wines are listed with comments, but that is likely not the case for just-released wines and wines under $15. Buying and holding this latter type of wine requires the buyer to have a storage facility that can maintain the wine at a constant 55 F. A dark place with some degree of humidity, like a basement, where the temperature will not exceed 59 F may be acceptable; keep the wine stored on its side and the cork from drying out.
White wines are particularly vulnerable to light and often are bottled in green or brown glass. When moving wines, carefully consider how they will be stored during the move. Vintage champagne is best stored vertically. Vibrations should be avoided as they contribute to the acceleration of the aging process. In the summary “Wines Drinking Well Now,” the Casanova di Neri released in 2005 technically has another four years to age, but the last reviewer indicated it may be sooner than the age window suggests – all useful wine information.
Match this strategy to a wine collection of 100 or more wines and I often see a large part of the wines past their age window; unfortunately, many never had any age-worthiness to start. If you are making the decision now to sell your collection of older wines, my first counsel is do it sooner than later and drink or share those wines that don’t pass the age-ability test.
‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Duval-Leroy 2005 Authentis Petit Meslier Champagne Brut, France, $106. This was the acclamation wine for the Big Canoe Wine Group’s aged wine tasting. It is comprised 100 percent of the rare grape petit meslier, and its intense acidity was well received. It offers white floral that radiate both in the aroma and on the palate and crisp fruit backed by acidity and brioche. This is, perhaps, a once-in-a-lifetime champagne given its rarity as part of the house’s Authentis series of wine. I purchased this wine at Duval-Leroy in 2015 in Vertus, France, which is why it was available for this tasting. It confirms vintage champagne can be very age-worthy. Carol Duval-Leroy heads the champagne house since 1991, and her winemaker is Sandrine Logette-Jardin since 2005. Highly Recommended.
Casanova di Neri 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova, Tuscany, Italy, $135. This particular wine was purchased for around $45 prior to being anointed as Wine Spectator’s number one wine in 2006. Dark-red in color, on the nose it offers red currant, blackberry, cherry, clove, plum, anise and fig. On the palate, it is full-bodied with a round mouthfeel. Well-integrated soft tannins, cherry, red currant, spice, anise and fig contribute to this complex wine. The lingering finish with red fruit and spice produces an exceptional wine. Pair this wine with aged Parmesan cheese, quail, lamb or grilled steak and enjoy. The 2010 Brunellos are considered century year wines, and this is one to search for if you want to hold a wine for several years.
Silver Oak, 2004 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Calif., $80. Dark-red in color, on the nose and palate it offers black and red berries, herbs, spice and tobacco with oak overtones. A full-bodied wine, it finishes long with some vegetative overtones. This was the Big Canoe Wine Group’s second choice in the tasting. It is projected to age through 2023. Pair with grilled or roasted beef, aged cheese, braised lamb or rich fatty meats, like rib-eye steak.
Andrew Will 2008 Solera Washington State, $70. This wine is 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot from the highly prized Champoux vineyard. The age of the vines is 32 years. It is ruby-red in color with aromas of blackberry, plum and spice with similar flavors on the palate including raspberry. A full-bodied wine with a long finish, it is complex and well balanced – another great wine from Chris Camarda. The 2012s are once again highly recommended if you enjoy holding a wine for several years, and Chris compares it very favorably to the 2008. Pair as a Bordeaux-blend with roasted lamb, grilled or roasted beef, hard cheese or brie.
Bealieu Vineyards 2001 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Calif., $79 (original price $28). Ruby-red in color with aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and olive that have evolved into soft, velvet tannins that drink very well after 15 years – similar to the Silver Oak in food pairing.
As a footnote: The April aged wine tasting also included a 1995 Tenuta Dell’ Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia, normally an exceptional “Super Tuscan.” However, the tasting window was 2002 to 2015 and this particular wine had seen better days. Even if you have one old wine stored away in the house, it is worth checking its projected age-ability.
‘Drink What You Like’
In my next article, the focus will be on Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp, fresh white wine from around the world – a great summer pleaser.
Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and The Wine Scholar Guild.