Storing and collecting wine

Wayne on Wine
"This excursion to select a wine that will age a few decades may ignite an urge to start your own journey to enjoy wines requiring additional time to soften and reach their peak." Photo by Wayne Crawford

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  wayne crawford
   Wayne Crawford

Invariably, during the holiday season, I am asked, “How long can I keep an expensive gift wine?” or “Where should I store the wine and at what temperature?” or, occasionally, “Will the wine increase in value?”  

I also have been questioned on whether older wine is really worth holding, tasting and collecting. Perhaps one of the most popular queries is the grandchild inquiry: What birth-year wine will be drinkable in 21 years for a newborn to enjoy?

These practical questions reinforce my belief Americans enjoy learning more about wine while allowing me, as a wine writer, to keep it simple.

The birth-year wine question is my favorite, since once you decide to purchase all the other questions need solutions. Let’s examine how this works.

First, does the buyer have a place to store this special wine that avoids direct light and has a humidity high enough not to allow the cork to dry out in a controlled temperature—ideally, 55 F? These factors allow the wine to age slowly, while adding bouquet and complexity; however, only 5 to 10 percent of wines are likely to improve with age. Wines sealed with corks also require horizontal storage to allow the wine to maintain moisture on the cork, assisting cork seal. The one exception is Champagne, which is best stored vertically.

Applying these fundamentals will slow down the aging process, while allowing the wine to continue to mature. Avoid storing wines where vibrations influence storage; these speed up aging.

Do not store wines in a refrigerator, which virtually can stop a wine from aging and dry out the cork. One practical solution for those without a wine cellar is to store wine horizontally in a dark place with constant temperature control not to exceed 69 F. Check the wine from time to time. Below-ground rooms work best.

Now for wine varietal choices. First, less than 10 percent of the wine produced in the world is structured to age 20 years. One myth is only red wines should be considered for long-term aging. In fact, there are several great white wines (about 5 percent) worth aging, including Sauternes and high-quality Chablis from France, late-harvest wines and selected German rieslings, semillon and selected muscat. The more likely choices to consider include: cabernet sauvignon from Napa; blended reds from Bordeaux, France; and Brunello di Montalcino, Super Tuscans, Amarone, Barolos and Barbaresco from Italy. Also, include fortified wines, particularly vintage port and Madeira from Portugal.

  wine
  Shafer Hillside Select 2009. Photo courtesy
of Shafervineyards

Prepared with this information, determine if you have a skilled wine merchant available to help research candidate wines available in your market, or start your own research on the Internet.

If you have a particular wine, for example, Shafer Hillside Select 2009, the release for this wine was September 2013 at $240. Note the release is four years after the grapes were harvested. Visit shafervineyards.com/wines/hillside.php to read what the winemaker has to say about aging—in this case, 20-plus years. I selected this wine as a great California Napa cabernet sauvignon that generally has a small case production (2,000) and is a wine first produced in 1978. This last point helps qualify the value on the aging estimate provided by the winemaker, since he has been producing this wine for 36 years and today the asking price is $270—a moderate price increase but not a useful indication on the value of this wine when your grandchild comes of age in 2035.

When you consider most first-growth French Bordeaux wines have been produced for decades, you begin to understand the estimates on aging generate confidence and pricing.

A Château Latour Pauillac 2009 first-growth Bordeaux, 9,500 cases produced, is projected to age until 2040. The release price for this wine was $1,600 but now is on the market at $1,195. This example also helps to answer the question about the wine increasing in value … perhaps. It is difficult to project wine value for more than a 20-year period, so I am not an advocate of buying wines for investment, unless you are a serious wine aficionado and have the cash to make this work.

My recommended approach for a grandchild birth purchase is to consider port and Madeira wines; both are exceptional values rarely exceeding $100 and generally available online for best selection. Focus on vintage ports and use various rating guides to help your selection. An exceptional site is thevintageportsite.com, committed to port knowledge covering most great port producers. A knowledgeable site for Madeira and another source for vintage collector wines that can serve as a jumping-off point for selecting collector wines is rarewineco.com/vintage-madeira/styles-of-madeira.

This excursion to select a wine that will age a few decades may ignite an urge to start your own journey to enjoy wines requiring additional time to soften and reach their peak.

Have fun and drink what you like!

In my next article, the focus is on one of the exceptional wines from Spain: Priorat.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.
 

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