John Wilson: Should you buy wine to age, and when is it worth the wait?

Some bottles reward a bit of patience – and they don’t have to be incredibly expensive

The great thing about these wines is you can drink them young or old

The great thing about these wines is you can drink them young or old

 

A friend is going through his collection of wine and sending me mournful messages with pictures of long-dead wines he has opened up. I too have been making determined efforts to rationalise my cellar – in other words drinking it. A few of the really old fine wines have been amazing. But I have come across just as many duds, so is it really worth buying wine to age? 

It is often correctly argued that the vast majority of wines are ready to drink the day you buy them. A great many of them are not going to get any better, either. So if you take the view that laying a wine down means putting it into the garage until the weekend, you may have a point. 

I admit to being an inveterate wine squirrel and have bought far too many wines and kept most far too long. Part of the problem is my changing tastes. I have a lot of dessert wines and vintage port. Most are not in danger of falling apart, but I rarely drink either.

Instead of buying very expensive wines I have concentrated on bottles costing €20-€35 – hardly cheap, but far less than the big-name wines from classic regions

More recently I have come up with a far better idea. Instead of buying very expensive wines that I will find hard to open (that special occasion never comes along, believe me), I have concentrated on wines costing €20-€35 a bottle – hardly cheap, but far less than the big-name wines from classic regions. I leave them for three to five years, maybe more, and then don’t feel guilty cracking them open on a Friday night.

As a result, I have come across some fantastic wines that have improved out of all recognition, including Garnachas from DO Madrid, a Barolo (Ascheri from O’Briens) Rieslings from Germany, Australia and Alsace, as well as some 10-year-old Beaujolais. I have included one of each here, but there have been many more. The great thing about these wines is you can drink them young or old. 

People tend to think of Bordeaux and Burgundy when buying wines to keep. In my experience, Syrah/Shiraz, Gamay, Loire reds, Languedoc reds, Nebbiolo and Malbec can all improve with time. Some white wines can age too. Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay are all worth a punt, as is Vermentino. 

Despite being on a cellar-slimming exercise, I have probably spent more money on Barolo, one of the longest-lived, most tannic (and expensive) wines of all, over the past year. The 2016 and 2017 vintages were both excellent and the wines were so good, I couldn’t resist. My purchase included some single vineyard wines from Vajra, featured here. If you want a more accessible Barolo, O’Briens has the aforementioned Ascheri Baroli.

Jim Barry Single Vineyard McKay’s Riesling 2018, Clare Valley, Australia
12.5%, €24.99
From one of the great producers of south Australia, an Australian classic. Nervy now with red apple fruits, it should develop rich honey and toasted nuts with time. In the meantime, drink it with salmon tartar, crab salad, fish tacos or Asian-style prawns.
From Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock,jusdevine.ie; The Wicklow Wine Co, Wicklow, wicklowwineco.ie; Burke’s Eurospar, Kinvarra

Morgon Corcelette 2019, Louis-Claude Desvignes
14%, €28
Svelte, voluptuous rich dark fruits with a refreshing acidity. Lovely now or keep up to 10 years. Beaujolais is one the most versatile food wines of all – charcuterie and cheese, pork dishes, chicken, salmon or mixed salads. 
From Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Loose Cannon, D2, loosecanon.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6; redmonds.ie; Brindle Coffee & Wine, D8; brindlecoffeewine.ie; This is It, Ennistymon, thisisitennistymon.com

La Bruja de Rozas 20 Commando G, Sierra de Gredos, DO Madrid
14.5%, €27.95
Fragrant with floral notes, with wonderful pure ripe strawberry fruits, a herbal not, some minerals, with some tannins kicking in on the finish. 2-5 years. Great with burgers, mac cheese, or Irish stew. 
From 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; A Taste of Spain, Capel Street, Dublin 1 & Camden Street, Dublin 2; siyps.com; Loose Cannon, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie; The Wine Pair, Dublin 8; Fish Shop, Dublin 7, fish-shop.ie

GD Vajra, Barolo “Albe” 2016
14.5%, €52.99
The friendly face of Barolo? Medium to full-bodied with wild forest fruits and morello cherries. The tannins are there to give structure but this is a very approachable Barolo. You could drink it now with braised beef, mushroom risotto, or fried calves’ liver. 
From 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.com; Alain & Christine’s, Kenmare, acwine.ie; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, elywinebar.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; JJ O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, jjodriscoll.ie; Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Power & Co Fine Wines, Lucan, power-wine.com; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel, rednosewine.com; Terroirs, Dublin 4, terroirs.ie; Thomas’s of Foxrock, thomasoffoxrock.ie; wineonline.ie

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