Older Vintage Wine and Cellaring

Why you should preserve bottles bought on release

 


I’m often asked, “Why should I cellar wine?” Now, we’re not talking about a well-stocked shelf of bottles to pull from or a Eurocave filled with your favorite juice. We’re talking about a wine cellar filled with vintages that are left to sit for years or decades in perfect, cool, moist, dark, vibration-free harmony. The answer is simple to me; for provenance and value.

You see, there are plenty of older bottles of wine around the world. Some sat in someone’s well-maintained cellar, but most did not. There are simply very few ways to ascertain that a bottle was treated perfectly throughout its life. How do you know it was bought at the cellar door and not a closeout at the corner liquor store after five years of sitting on a retail shelf with a hot bulb shining down on it each day? Some retailers and auction houses go through extremes to declare the healthy provenance of their older bottles, some do not. It’s a minefield, really, and that’s without considering the possibility of forgery, like when you taste that bottle of traditionally-styled Barolo, and it reeks of new oak. “Hmm, how’d that get in there?”
Related Imagery
Cos d'Estrournel Lineup
After considering all of this, having your own wine cellar starts to make a lot of sense. You bought the wine on release. You put the bottles in the cellar. You painfully restrained yourself from opening them early. Now that’s provenance, and you get to sit back with a perfectly mature bottle of wine that you bought and cared for. 

Good thing too, because you can’t find this bottle anywhere else at retail and if you could it would cost a pretty penny. Then you think about how you only paid $20 for this piece of mature vinous perfection. Oh yeah, that’s the other reason why you should cellar wine; value.

The fact is that wine is a great investment, both for monetary value and consumption. If you love mature wine, then you know what I mean. Today, I pay prices for older bottles that are five to twenty times what the bottle cost on release. Some of that is inflation, but most of it is appreciation. There’s only so much of it to go around. The stock of every bottle is constantly being depleted through consumption. Then there are the ones that are stored improperly by consumers and the occasional careless distributor or retailer. Once that bottle becomes rare and the current pundit sings its praise, the price goes up. Imagine how happy you’d be if you bought the 1978 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino upon release, instead of having to pay upwards of $2K for it. Imagine if you were drinking it right now, in perfect condition because you stored it yourself, and it only cost you $35. Imagine that.

A recent tasting I attended was a perfect example of these two points. A generous wine lover, who’s been putting bottles in his cellar for decades, opened a lineup of older Bordeaux. Bottles that were bought on release at a fraction of what they cost now, stored perfectly until that day. They were glorious. If I could magically put a glass in the hand of each reader, you’d all know the answer to the question, “Why should I cellar wine?” 

On to the notes:

The bottles of Chateau Meyney were originally purchased at an average of $10 a bottle, while wine-searcher shows the same bottle available now for an average of $71 a piece.

1988 Chateau Meyney – At first, the nose gave off a whiff of old library books, which blew off quickly to reveal a bouquet of black raspberry, mushroom, menthol, herbs and a hint of chalk dust. On the palate, it displayed a medium body with juicy acidity that ushered in ripe red fruit and peppery notes. The finish dropped off a bit with faded red fruit, yet this was still an enjoyable aged bottle.  (89 points)

1989 Chateau Meyney – The nose drew me in as it was so savory, yet sour/sweet at the same time. First, I encountered a bit of meaty broth, which quickly gave way to dark fruits, spice and a bit of browned bread. It reminded me of a freshly baked blackberry tart with floral notes rounding it out. On the palate, it was a very pretty wine, medium bodied and juicy with sour cherry, and an herbal, almost medicinal note. The finish showed fresh berries and revealed lively tannin. The ’88 Meyney is still very much alive and going places. (92 points)

1990 Chateau Meyney – The nose showed a bit of stewed tomato that, with air, turned to lively raspberry, potpourri and barrel notes. On the palate, red fruit, a little past prime, was followed up with floral stems and a saline minerality. The finish was very enjoyable with long and staying wild berries.  (90 points)

The 1989 Clos D'Estournel was purchased at an average of $29 a bottle, while Wine-searcher shows the same bottle available now for an average of $235 a piece!!!

1989 Cos D’Estournel – The nose was savory and meaty with dark red fruits, sweet cinnamon spice and hint of liquor. On the palate, it was big and rich with ripe, juicy fruit and herbal tea. The finish was mouth-coating, but turned juicy with a slight medicinal note. This was a very sexy wine that was more fun to drink than to think about. (90 points)

The 1986 Cos D'Estournel and Lynch Bages were purchased at an average of $20 a bottle, while Wine-searcher shows the same bottles available now for an average of $225 a piece!!!

1986 Cos D’Estournel – The nose showed blackberry jam, sweet spices, coffee notes and freshly turned earth. On the palate, I found aged red fruits and herbs, which faded into the long juicy finish. A very fine example of aged Bordeaux made in a classic style. (92 points)

1986 Lynch Bages – The nose showed floral notes with mushrooms, old library books, a hint of wood, cherry liquor and mint. On the palate, it had a medium body with sour red fruits that turned juicy and sweet on the back end The finish was lively, yet still showed a musty hint. Unfortunately, this bottle was slightly corked. (No Score)

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Comments

  • Very well stated. Provenance is EVERYTHING. It's a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that your wines are in perfect shape, aging gracefully in your cellar under ideal conditions. Funny you mention 1978 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, as this is one of the wines I bought when I first started collecting. Another 78 that I always think about is 1978 Guigal La Mouline that I bought back then for $29. I enjoy your site very much... keep up the good work!

    Steve Greystone at Wine Advisory Group
    http://www.wineag.com

    Oct 14, 2011 at 1:21 PM


  • Snooth User: prattwf
    731877 14

    What a shame your 1986 Lynch Bages was corked. I read recently that pouring the corked wine into a container lined with plastic wrap causes the "corked" molecules created by the introduction of oxygen into the unopened wine to bind with the molecules in the plastic (some sort of chemical affinity). Haven't tried it yet, but the next time I stumble on a corked bottle at home (god forbid) what's to lose?

    Oct 14, 2011 at 3:26 PM


  • a friend commented today that he wished he'd bought 50 cases of 2000 Lynch Bages. he bought one at £250 and it's just topped £2000 a case. said case sits in the cave (literally) that the wine merchant we both use, stores their wine in. at some point, he'll pay the VAT and duty and release it to his own cellar and then (hopefully, if he's a good friend) we'll enjoy a bottle knowing that he paid £20-odd a bottle and it's then likely to be worth something north of £200. it's a nice feeling. i keep many of my cases with the wine merchant in their cave but also keep/transfer other "stuff" in my own wine fridge, set for long-term storage. there can't be a much worse feeling than opening a bottle at perfect maturity and it's faulty, knowing that you personally had not kept it well. good article.

    Oct 14, 2011 at 3:29 PM


  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 22

    I bought a bottle of 1982 Margaux and a bottle of 1982 Lafite Rothschild in 1985 at Roseville Cellars in Sydney - paid about $130 for each bottle at the time. I drank the Margaux 2 years ago on my 25th Wedding Anniversary and it was the best red I have ever drunk. Waiting for a big occasion to drink the Lafite. Last knock down sale price at Langtons Auctions was $3,501 before paying 15% Buyer's Premium, although I have seen it for much higher prices than that. Should probably sell it but when do you get to drink a $4,000 wine for only $130? I will be drinking it.

    Oct 14, 2011 at 9:35 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 163,937

    These are great stories. I love it! This is exactly why I have a wine cellar. I've been building a Barolo collection for 10 vintages now and never touch these bottles. The entire reason is so that, one day, 10 or so years from now--I will be drinking very well.

    Also, it's a way for me to justify the more costly bottles. For instance, paying $100 for a bottle todya and drinking it tonight, can seem wasteful. However, buying a $100 bottle today and drinking it 15 years later, when it's worth $500... Now that's value.

    Well said Bobby Boy.

    Oct 14, 2011 at 10:04 PM


  • Just noted 17 "thumbs-down" on this article. How come?

    Most great red wine should be properly cellared for a period of time. The positive aspects are astronomical in developing bottle "bouquet", enormous complexity, flavor component integrity and mellifluous finish. Versus precocious or "sleeping" aromatics, "monster" power & weight, out-of-balance/awkward component fruit, stem, acidity, barrel, fining/SO2, and raw dustiness from soluble fruit solids. The reason your girlfriend doesn't like red wine.

    The reward of opening a great red at maturity is inexplicably profound. Beyond the obvious increase in value, offering friends a mature treasure over a fine meal is magical-for the hosts and the guests.

    You may be unaware of how this alive beverage can develop from chrysalis to rare butterfly. Some speak of attaining that "third-eye" or that first epiphany, "so that's what they mean".

    But 17 thumbs-down? I know it all sounds like a high-minded crock of rubbish but opening a new bottle 2 hours after purchase doesn't get you into the door of understanding great reds. It's like a blind man putting his toe in the ocean and remarking "it's wet".

    Just remember you read this and wait-you'll see.

    Oct 15, 2011 at 10:15 AM


  • P.S. and some whites. Not many.

    Oct 15, 2011 at 10:16 AM


  • BTW I was addressing the 17 thumbs-down group; I realize on this page I'm preaching to the choir.

    Oct 15, 2011 at 10:19 AM


  • My wife & I have been enjoying wines for over 3 decades now, learning more every day thanks to articles like this one.

    During our last Navy tour in Pearl Harbor in the late 1980's, we could neither bring our wine collection there nor wanted it to be kept in a home without air conditioning, so we paid the rental fee for a 50 case storage space in a Washington, DC wine shop. Since we had 'only' 35 cases & didn't want to 'pay for air', we bought 15 more cases to fill up the space! Our investment has paid off FAR better than our stock/mutual fund portfolio - bringing us to the point we'd like to make for everyone to consider:

    INSURING your wine - just as one should do with other fine 'collectibles' such as jewelry, china, silver, procelains, paintings, etc.!

    The possibility of TOTAL LOSS is real, as we've seen recently with tornadoes, floods, hurricanes & out-of-control fires - the last being a fate which burned our favorite restaurant down to the ground the day before Thanksgiving a few years ago - including its extensive wine cellar.

    We highly recommend the website http://www.wine-searcher.com which we've recently come across. It has an easy to use "Wine Valuation" section which enabled us to quickly discover that just the 'top 5' cases of our cellar have a 'replacement value' of over $10,000!

    Like "Bobby Boy" above ... we intend to enjoy our treasures, not sell them ... but we'll still be contacting our insurance company as soon as we've finished our inventory.

    Oct 15, 2011 at 1:42 PM


  • Snooth User: aoswald
    86692 0

    Mark, I think the 17 (now 19) are Tweets, not thumbs down, otherwise, I agree.

    All, I just starting my collection. My rented cellar is like 2 Wine Lovers was - packed! So to get to anything, cases have to be moved around. I try do do it as little as possible, but it still has to happen. What affect will this have on the ageing process?

    Oct 15, 2011 at 2:39 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 163,937

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's the twitter count. man, i got scared for a second there.

    Oct 15, 2011 at 3:53 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 163,937

    AOSWALD

    As long as you're not moving them regularly, you're fine. A bottle sitting perfectly still may be perfect, but it won't kill it if it's moved a few times in its life.

    Oct 15, 2011 at 3:54 PM


  • Snooth User: erniex
    634476 60

    For me cellaring of wine is a part of the pleasure itself. A perfectly matured bottle is simple a much more rewarding experience, and espcially so if you did it yourself. Following the wine through the years, by tasting regularly or following comments from critics and fellow wine lover, is just adding to the suspense and joy of one day cracking it open. Secondly great to have that choice of wines for whatever meal and occasion. Problem today is, that many of these wines mentioned have gotten ridicoulusly expensive, even buying en primeur. I mean seriously, who except from investors and the ultra rich are buying Lafite at 2000$ a bottle? So the question is what to buy today, which still will withstand the test of time and make a good deal all together? Personally I now buy second/third tier Bordeaux, Chateau Neuf, certain Barolos and lately some Campania Aglianico wines I found to be both great value and indeed ageworthy. Any other good suggestions?

    Oct 16, 2011 at 4:06 AM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 163,937

    ERNIEX

    You mentioned some great affodrable and cellerable wines. Barol and Barbaresco can be expensive but there are still plenty of great producers, making cellar worthy wines, that are still affordable. One of the best values in this region is from Produttori Del Barbaresco, there Barbaresco Normale ($25) is certainly built to age. Vietti Castiglione Barolo ($38), serious Barolo. Marcarini Brunate, or La Serra ($40 - $45).

    In Tuscany, a producer that's looked over and produces some cellerable Sangiovese is Monsanto. Not just the Il Poggio ($45) but the Chianti Classico Riserva ($18) is really good for the price and can age.

    Those are just a few. Maybe we should start a thread on the forum where we can organize a list of cellar worthy, afordable wines. That sounds like a really good idea to put our thoughts together.

    Oct 16, 2011 at 2:26 PM


  • Snooth User: erniex
    634476 60

    Thanks for the suggestions Eric. Well versed with Produttori and Vietti already and could add also Renato Ratti to that list. And definitely a thread on "affordable/ageworthy" as well as "affordable now but probably not in a decade" would make a lot of sense. Easy now to bang your head on why one didnt buy the 82 Bordeaux vintage like crazy, but (apart from the fact I was only 12 at the time) who would have guessed the appreciation of those bottles.
    Even its for consumption rather than investing, its a good kick drinking wines for which you only paid double digits now worth triple..

    Oct 16, 2011 at 10:45 PM


  • Snooth User: aoswald
    86692 0

    Thanks for the info Eric.

    Oct 17, 2011 at 3:11 AM


  • But when you come to drink it, you're still drinking a wine that costs/is worth hundreds a bottle. OK, so you bought it for a tenth of that, but still...

    Here's our own post on how hard it is to actually drink a wine that you've cellared for twenty years:

    http://sedimentblog.blogspot.com/20...

    Oct 17, 2011 at 5:19 AM


  • Snooth User: erniex
    634476 60

    Not sure I get your point, even after I read your blog. I LOVE opening those bottles when finally they are matured and ready to be drunk. And I LOVE the fact, that I can allow myself the luxury doing so because I bought it at the right time. Would you rather wait until its past due, die without trying, or trade in for cash you can then use to buy daily groceries?? Life certainly is too short, in my opinion, and on my dead bed I want to make damn sure I didnt miss on the best life has to offer because I was a scrooge while living.
    We all have to spend within our individual budgets - and indeed relative figure, but dying the richest is a poor mans game if you ask me!

    Oct 17, 2011 at 5:34 AM


  • Erniex, I just wish life contained more occasions which deserve to be marked with $200 wine I have waited twenty years to enjoy...!

    Oct 17, 2011 at 5:52 AM


  • Snooth User: erniex
    634476 60

    Well call me a fool, but Im perfectly happy drinking good wine on any given Tuesday with a simple pasta dish. Or ar intimate dinners with few friends or family.

    Oct 17, 2011 at 6:30 AM


  • Fm 2 Wine Lovers:

    Reply to/for both AOSWALD & ERIC G. about 'moving wine around':

    Concur with Eric G that occasionally moving bottles around "won't kill it".

    We've found that checking once or twice a year to see how much 'air space' there is in the neck of each older bottle (between the cork & the level of the wine) is just 1 way to tell us to 'drink up' some of our older wines - esp if the wine level is nearing the 'shoulder' of the bottle!

    We try to do this 'gently' in order to minimize stirring up any sediment that's accumulated.

    Also, in talking with many true wine pros over the years, we've learned that 1 of the MOST important factors to KEEP CONSISTENT is TEMPERATURE. Better to have wines for keeping kept at temps in the low-mid 60's rather than subject them to wide variations throughout the year. Thus simply keeping a wine 'in the dark' on its side in a cool closet is better than 'out in the sun'.

    We're lucky to have a basement cellar where we simply close the air vents during the winter in the room we keep our wine, & make sure the vents are open when the A/C is on in the summer. We also do NOT live in a dry area that's subject to low humidity which can dry out corks ... but if we did, we'd probably have some sort of humidifier installed.

    Oct 17, 2011 at 11:45 AM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 163,937

    Well said 2 Wine-lovers.

    Also guys, laying your bottles on a stone surface in a basement (assuming there isn't a broiler in the room) is a great way to regulate temperature. I wouldn't recommend it for decades of aging but it sure beats the hell out of the kitchen wine rack.

    Oct 18, 2011 at 7:45 PM


  • Snooth User: Kirsy
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    880543 1,786

    great article, I am completely new to the world of wine and I am inspired to start my own collection and properly storing them. A question: Are there any specific varietals or region of wines that are better for cellaring? Aside from sparkling, does anyone cellar white wines? Thanks,

    Oct 19, 2011 at 10:49 AM


  • Kirsy,
    Every year about this time we get 1 or 2 'dessert' wines from the Wine of the Month Club (WOMC)

    (http://www.WineoftheMonthClub.com
    http://www.facebook.com/Wineof theMonthClub)

    ... that we often never seem to get around to drinking; & yet when we do, we've found they actually get more 'mellower' and 'fuller' with age - not too unlike our waistlines!

    Another benefit of the WOMC (or any other that you might come across) is that it also suggests food and wine pairings which can 'show off' a dessert wine even 'better' than if you just drank a small glass by itself. Asking a trusted wine merchant or a restaurant owner or wine server for suggestions is another way to gather info.

    There are a few fine, 'tho expensive, French white burgundies & chardonnays fm around the world that can improve over the years, but we've found they're too costly for our budget.

    Finally, 'if you've been good this year' ... perhaps Santa or a friend will give you a great little book we get each Christmas in our stocking: Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2011 (or 2012 coming soon) that costs but $14.99 or so. It's FULL of great info, including (on the inside front cover) "Quick reference vintage charts" that tell you 'whether the wine is ready to drink or should be kept', or even if it should be avoided entirely. Check it out on the internet to see if this is the kind of info you're looking for. Good luck!

    Oct 20, 2011 at 6:16 PM


  • Snooth User: ckeilah
    276793 4

    I'm having trouble figuring out WHEN to drink some of my bottles that are slowly aging away at 63F. Cellartracker has a "community" guess on "drinking window" but I think most of the community is about as clueless as I am. I'd hate to open my prized Pinots too early, or keep sitting on my 1982 Frogs Leap Cab, if it died years ago. What's a poor wino to do???

    Oct 23, 2011 at 9:51 PM


  • To "ckeilah" re. "WHEN" to drink some of your aging treasures:

    Having just checked our well-thumbed & hi-lited "2011 Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book" (both its quick ref wine charts as well as Hugh J's specific entry for "Frog's Leap" (one of our personal favorites as well!) ... we'd recommend enjoying your '82 anytime soon. (The upcoming holidays would be a perfect time to share it with a special friend!) Unlike French Bordeaux, even the really special California Cabs fm great yrs don't age as well as truly classic Bordeaux.

    You might also consider checking out Frog's Leap's website &/or call the winery for suggestions!

    For the FUN of it, you could wait till a few day's AFTER New Years Eve (when hard liquor so often overshadows exceptional wines) ... & compare it with an '82 Bordeaux (if available). It'd be interesting to see and taste the differences between a 3-decade old California Cab vs a same aged Bordeaux. Just know that one of those 2 great treasures will most likely come out '2nd best' ... 'tho with multiple tasters, they might end up 'tied for 1st"!

    Another option might be to drink the Frog's Leap along with a younger Frog's Leap fm say '05 or '06. Just know that the '82 MAY very well be 'past its prime' ... 'tho well worth enjoying nevertheless.

    From our perspective, the 'key' is to ENJOY wine ... sometimes by itself ... sometimes in comparing alongside others ... sometimes with a special meal where both food & wine complement each other! As we've learned over the years ... the only "absolute" is that there are NO "absolutes" ... '

    (... tho we'll contradict ourselves right away by saying that WE enjoy simpler meals with our BEST wines.)

    Ex: We usually reserve a quiet evening at home, ignoring the phone because we are "out to dinner" ... to enjoy our best wines with a dinner of a simple salad along with a nice steak or beef dish + a baked potato & perhaps some simply prepared carrots & french bread.)

    Everyone, however, has their own 'take' on what they like (or don't) ... so do what YOU think you'd like to do ... & if a wine disappoints because 'it's past its' supposed 'prime' or you drank it 'too early' ... so what? Better to enjoy them while you're alive than to have to let some probate attorney decide who gets to enjoy YOUR investment after your gone!

    A favorite toast of ours: "So MUCH wine ... so LITTLE time!"

    Oct 24, 2011 at 5:03 PM


  • Snooth User: JoeinLA
    953625 0

    When I began collecting, It was just like gathering and hoarding w no real idea about aging and why....until I opened an '82 Montrose that made me say "wow" out loud at the restaurant. It being Valentines Day, my girlfriend at the time had hoped I'd be saying that about her... instead, I couldn't get my nose out of the glass!
    Since then, I've been "collecting" and beginning to reap the rewards now for the 12+ years of patience. There's nothing like some good age on a fine wine...

    Oct 31, 2011 at 8:00 PM


  • Snooth User: jsncruz
    1001336 68

    This has inspired me to get bottles that are available right now and store them until such time when I need them - my future kids' graduations perhaps, and maybe even births of my future grandchildren! :)

    After saying that though, I'm from a country that has quite a limited access to the typical 'for-aging' wines that I read about. Since I was first exposed to Shiraz (and it will always be the wine my mother and I are fond of) I suppose I'll collect those :) Not too sure though how many years Shiraz keeps.

    P.S. I'm a newbie collector; under 1 year and <40 bottles.

    Feb 19, 2012 at 6:59 AM


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