More wines to put by in the cellar

 

If you’re going to stash away some wine in the hope that it will improve with age, make sure it has good ageing potential

A FEW WEEKS BACK, I outlined the practicalities of building your own wine cellar. This week we’ll look at how to fill it. I know that some of you will baulk at spending so much on a bottle of wine: just remember that €25 is roughly the equivalent of five pints of beer in a pub. Instead, you could enjoy six glasses of high-quality wine.

It may seem blindingly obvious, but make sure you choose wine that will keep and improve. Only a select number of wines have that ability.

Keep an eye on vintage reports, bearing in mind that most producers and importers have a tendency to talk a vintage up. It is also worth remembering that poor winemakers rarely make great wine, whereas great winemakers rarely put a foot wrong. Try to source a few mature bottles first – old wine can be an acquired taste. In the current climate vintages are turning over more slowly, so your local off-licence may well have a few available.

I would strongly recommend that you buy a few bottles of less expensive wine, rather than a single bottle of something very pricey. It can be difficult to fully appreciate your special bottle when you realise it would fetch the equivalent of a month’s mortgage payment. Far better to buy at least two, but preferably more, bottles of something costing €20-50. That way, you will be able to monitor development by trying a bottle once a year, and maybe have enough to serve at a posh dinner party. Try to avoid keeping it too long. In most cases, medium-priced bottles should be drunk within two to five years. Any longer and the fruit will begin to fade.

Big bottles mature more slowly than small. Quarter bottles have a notoriously short shelf-life, half-bottles age more quickly than full bottles, and magnums last the longest of all. I have three magnums of mature non-vintage Champagne, one of which I drink every Christmas, replacing with a new bottle at the same time. The difference is enormous. The only drawback is that you can’t crack it open for a quiet dinner for two on a Friday night.

White wines that are worth keeping generally start off life with plenty of acidity: Riesling; Sémillon; Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay can all age wonderfully well. Others, such as Sauvignon and Viognier, with very few exceptions, are best drunk in their youth. Ageworthy red wines have tannins, and sometimes acidity too, which enable them to develop and age gracefully. The process is essentially one of slow oxidation. A bottle of wine contains a small amount of oxygen which allows it to slowly soften and mature, as the different components – a complex mix of tannins, pigments, flavour compounds, sugars and acids – come together to form a harmonious whole. Good wines have more of these than everyday bottles, and great wines even more – that is what enables them to last. The colour changes too, with white wines becoming deeper in colour, first gold, and then brown. Red wines lose their purple robe and become progressively lighter, turning red and then brown too. With a few exceptions, such as specific kinds of sherry, port and Madeira, a brown-coloured wine is past its best.

BOTTLES OF THE WEEK

Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Seventy Six Shiraz Cabernet 2010, 14.5%, €16.99Many years ago, Koonunga Hill hooked a generation of wine-lovers to Australian wine. The Seventy Six is a big powerful wine, with lush ripe dark fruits and plenty of structure. It will certainly evolve over the next three to five years, possibly longer. Stockists: Higgins, Clonskeagh; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; 1601, Kinsale; Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dawson Street; McHugh’s, Artane and Raheny; Donnybrook Fair; select O’Briens outlets; Molloy’s, Leopardstown and Nutgrove.

Domaine d’Aupilhac 2009, Montpeyroux, Coteaux du Languedoc, 14%, €21.95Sylvan Fadat is one of the greatest producers in the Languedoc, fashioning dense mineral-laden red wines that age beautifully. The 2009 is packed with ripe, savoury, dark fruits and liquorice, wrapped in a cloak of firm tannins. Keep for two to five years, possibly more. Stockists: Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Corkscrew, Chatham Street.

Côtes de Nuits Villages ‘Aux Falques’ 2010, Jean-Marc Millot, Burgundy, 13%, €27An unassuming man, Jean-Marc Millot owns some of the finest vineyards in Burgundy, including plots in Clos Vougeot and Echézeaux. However, he also makes a very fine Côtes de Nuits from a single vineyard in Comblanchien. The 2010 vintage in Burgundy is one to buy. This is super wine, restrained yet elegant, with beautifully poised cool dark cherry fruits and good acidity. Keeps two to three years. Stockists: Cabot Co, Westport, cabotandco.com; On the Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie

Château Langoa Barton 2008 St Julien, 13%, £37.50 (€49.50)The year 2008 will not go down as the greatest vintage in Bordeaux, and prices have therefore not been subject to frenzied speculation. Anthony Barton, proprietor of both Château Langoa and Léoville-Barton, has been making very reasonably-priced classic claret for many years. The 2008 will please the traditionalists with its elegant, pure blackcurrant fruits, a nice meaty depth and dry, tannic finish. You could drink it now, but a few years in the cellar will pay dividends. Stockists: James Nicholson, Crossgar, Jnwine.com. If you fancy tasting a few young wines with a view to starting up a cellar, James Nicholson is holding a tasting of its remaining 2009 Bordeaux in the shop in Crossgar today and next Saturday (noon-5pm). They will also be doing an online offer throughout the month of June. Greenacres in Wexford also offer a great range of young Bordeaux.

WINES THAT SHOULD IMPROVE WITH AGE

Here is a list of wines that, if bought in the correct vintage, should improve over a few years. From Australia, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Sémillon. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon; northern and southern Rhône reds – 2010 seems excellent in both. Red Burgundy (I have had too many disappointments with white Burgundy to try again). Riesling from Germany (in particular) but also Alsace and Austria – 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 were all very good-to-excellent years. Barolo, Barbaresco and Chianti from Italy. Medium-priced Bordeaux (you really need to spend €30 or more) – 2010, 2009, 2008 are the best three recent vintages. Champagne – most is sold too young and good Champagne, including non-vintage, will improve for a few years. Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. Hunter Valley Sémillon – a revelation. Most Beaujolais should be drunk straight away, but Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon can age very nicely, and lastly vintage Port.