I have a modest wine cellar in my basement. There are some 600-700 bottles in my cellar and this presents an ongoing problem for a collector like me. I am not a wine investor – I buy wine to consume it.
The heart of the ongoing problem is the collectibles – that is, the wines I put down for further ageing – are rarely touched. Why? My working wine supply continues to fluctuate in size and this is where I always stop first when selecting a wine for dinner. As a result, the collectibles languish, waiting for special occasions. The fact is there aren’t enough real special occasions on the horizon… so recently I’ve started to tackle the collectibles for more frequent use.
Attacking a cellar of older wines takes some discipline. There are wines that may be past their prime, there are others that still need time, there are those that match better with some foods than others and quite frankly, there are some wines I am more interested in than others (or, put another way, there are wines I am less interested in than when I bought them). These factors all need to considered when selecting my wine for tonight’s dinner…with the added complexity that I need a back-up wine in reserve, in case my first choice turns out to be an over aged-stinker. The goal of course is to avoid, if not eliminate, past-their-time wines.
I have been pleasantly surprised by two of my recent collectibles selections and I wanted to share my experiences with you.
The first was an AOC Auxey-Duresses white wine from the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. Auxey-Duresses is a small village near the village of Meursault, known more for its reds than its whites. The white wines from this commune share many attributes with the more famous wines of its neighbour slightly to the south. This means, when you can find them, wines from Auxey-Duresses are attractively priced, less than those from Meursault. A poor person’s Meursault, if you will.
In any case, I found a 1998 Drouhin Auxey-Duresses in the cellar the other night that I matched with home-made seafood chowder. No need for a back-up here. The cork was in immaculate condition and the wine showed no signs of age-related oxidation (phew!). While the wine was a deep golden colour it was bright and clear to the eye. Beautiful.
On the nose there were aromas of ripe brown apple, melon, ripe pineapple, honey, toasted almond, vanilla and caramel – a great combination of primary and tertiary elements combined to deliver a complex and appealing nose.
The palate was dry with bright acidity: a real surprise. The body was of medium weight, lean on the mid-palate with flavours of ripe melon, ripe brown apple, honey, spice, toasted almond and cinnamon. This was a very complex and satisfying wine with a long spicy finish with lingering vanilla. Overall this beautifully-aged wine from a second-tier appellation was punching well above its weight.
The second wine was also from the 1998 vintage, AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Cuilleron Gaillard Villard La Perdendaille. This wine is made by the negoçiant firm, Vins de Vienne, set up in the mid-1990’s by three successful, highly-regarded vignerons from the northern Rhône, Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard and Francois Villard. Each of these men is a fine producer in his own right but for the past 15 years they have been making wines that attract a following despite their steep, cult-like prices.
The Cairanne appellation has been one of my favourites for many years. The wines are rich with exceptional black fruit and garrigue, they sell at very attractive value prices and we see good supply of them in Ontario.
As was the case with the Burgundy above, this wine had a long, dry cork, in mint condition. This wine was a bright ruby colour with no signs of garnet anywhere in the glass. The nose was still developing and quite intense. Aromas of berry fruit, smoked meat, smoke, wet earth and vanilla were all displayed in a youthful package.
The palate was intense with bright acidity, and a supple mouth feel. The tannins were grainy but were well-integrated and while the alcohol was high the wine was nicely balanced without discernible heat. Concentrated dark berry fruit dominated the palate. The fruit was accompanied by spice, smoke, toast and vanilla. The finish was long with a grainy character.
This wine was another beauty: youthful, complex, balanced and harmonious with expressive fruit – a wonderful sensory experience. Despite its age this wine continued to evolve in the glass.
Both wines demonstrated the benefits of ageing and the potential that well-made wines possess, even if they aren’t from top-tier appellations. Most wine is made to be consumed immediately but yet I believe too many wines are consumed too early. Most wines will not last 12 years the way these two wines did, but I encourage readers to apply patience to their wines from time to time. It will be rewarded.
Now what else can I dig out from the cave…
Originally published in WVN, November 13, 2010. Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2010.