There is, and I say this without sarcasm, a downside to owning a cellar-full of expensive wine. Ah, but of course, you reply, there’s the cost of insurance and climate control and possibly the nuisance of friends constantly inviting themselves over to dinner.
No, none of those. I’m talking about time. You’ve got to wait (and wait and wait) to maximize the return on your investment. Trophy bottles such as classified-growth Bordeaux, single-vineyard Barolo and cult California cabernet can take decades to reach what bow-tied connoisseurs with Oxbridge accents refer to as peak maturity.
This is an issue not to be easily dismissed even by people with the patience of Job. By the time you’re ready to pull the cork on those liquid antiques in the hope of savouring evolved characters of leather, mushroom and autumn leaves, your geriatric palate might have moved on to more soothing preferences, such as warm milk or Sleepytime tea.
You could crack them sooner, of course. But isn’t that beside the point? Even wines that happen to be very old in chronological terms but that still taste remarkably fresh can seem like a ripoff to me. A wine cellar is built to deliver the wrinkles of time; it’s not supposed to be a fountain of youth.
I’ve kept a cellar for decades, but I still suffer from what I think of as the wine collector’s equivalent of the seven-year itch. Most of us know the expression from the 1955 Marilyn Monroe movie, based on a play of the same name by George Axelrod. In romance it refers to the eventual tendency of a partner in a marriage to succumb to adulterous temptations. In my case, I get itchy to uncork bottles roughly seven years after purchase.
Consequently, I’ve increasingly kept an eye out for wines that I suspect will evolve quickly and pay dividends within that time frame. Southern France, notably the Rhône Valley, is a big go-to source for me, as are Bordeaux’s petit châteaux, good-quality Chianti, pinot noir and cru Beaujolais. But there are lots of other options, some reflected in the selections below.
Another attractive thing about seven-year wines is that they tend to be way more affordable than long-haul Mouton or Dominus. Which makes it a lot less painful to reach for the corkscrew when friends suddenly show up for dinner.
Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Merlot 2015, British Columbia
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $35
Luscious, smooth and ample, yet handsomely structured and disciplined. Blackberry-led fruit with dark chocolate, vanilla and a toasty, coffee-roast overtone. Lots to love. An impressive Okanagan merlot. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. Approachable now, it should improve with up to six or seven years, perhaps longer. Available in British Columbia direct through Stag’s Hollow Winery.
Cantalici Baruffo Chianti Classico Riserva 2012, Italy
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $35.95
This is chunky, concentrated sangiovese. Notes of dark cherry, tangy plum, leather and bitter chocolate are held together with a sticky grip from firm tannins. It should open up nicely, with even more leather, in five to seven years. Available in Ontario.
Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016, South Africa
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $17.95
Succulent and energetic, this bold white comes from a champion of South Africa’s signature white grape variety. And Ken Forrester rightly insists that good chenin blanc can evolve flatteringly with bottle age, developing nuttiness and honey notes. A syrupy yet dry reserve, this is based on concentrated fruit from a vineyard that was planted in the late 1970s and displays plump apricot, crisp peach, lemon tea and almond notes as well as a hint of flintiness. Available in Ontario at the above price, $21.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Château de la Rivière 2012, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $34.95
A Bordeaux from Fronsac consisting of 84-per-cent merlot with splashes of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and malbec. And this is merlot as it should be, smooth and plump, yet with good structure and verve. There are enticing forest-floor, tobacco and mineral notes peeking out from under the fruit and well-integrated oak. Give it seven or as much as 10 more years to evolve further. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Fabre Montmayou Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Argentina
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
An Old World-style cabernet from Mendoza, with Bordeaux-like structure and dryness. The colour is youthful, inky-purple, and this should evolve well over the next few years. The flavours hint at syrupy cassis, vanilla, chocolate, black olive and mint along with minerality worthy of a higher-priced red from Médoc. Still firm with fine, sticky tannins. Good value. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Sao Miguel Escolha dos Enologos 2015, Portugal
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22.95
Full-bodied, gutsy and juicy. A red blend of touriga nacional, touriga franca and alicante bouschet from the southern Portuguese region of Alentejo. Hearty stuff, with big blackberry fruit and a firm, chalky exterior that should soften in a few years. Available in Ontario.
The Hedonist Shiraz 2014, Australia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $22.95
How uncommon and enticing: a smoky bacon-like hint more characteristic of Rhône-style syrah than McLaren Vale shiraz. (There’s even a drawing of a pig on the label, which I suspect is coincidental.) The bacon is a yummy complement to the blackberry sauce and pine-like aromatic characters that are carried on a fleshy, seductive frame. This is minimal-intervention shiraz, a good candidate for medium-term cellaring. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $29 in Nova Scotia.
Michel Gassier Les Piliers Syrah 2015, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $17.95
Medium-full, this is a ripe yet handsomely tight red from the southern Rhône district of Costières de Nîmes, made from 97-per-cent syrah with 3-per-cent grenache. Classic Rhône syrah characters of dark fruit, licorice, pepper and a hint of game answer the roll call. Ready to drink now, it should improve with up to seven years. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.