Rose Kennedy gave us a great line about the parallel between human aging and the magic of a well-cellared bottle. "I'm like old wine," she said. "They don't bring me out very often, but I'm well preserved."
So she was until her passing in 1995. A survivor of tumultuous political times and personal tragedies, the Kennedy matriarch reached the majestic milestone of 104. But I'm not sure about her oenological wisdom. She must have enjoyed access to a better cellar than most of us because, in my experience, time generally flatters charming people more than it does most wines.
That's not a criticism; most simply are meant to be enjoyed in their youth, like the Malivoire Spritz in the reviews below. It takes keen insight to sniff out a sound long-term investment, even more to know when to pop the cork before the liquid inevitably crests and turns sour.
I've answered many reader questions over the years about what to buy for the long haul as well as what might be expected of stray old bottles found in crawl spaces and grandparents' basements.
It's tough to respond with confidence, as I've learned from my own cellar and those of others.
Occasionally even relatively humble wines costing the equivalent of $20 today have surprised me. Reds from the Côtes du Rhône in the southern Rhône valley, for example, and grenache-syrahmourvedre blends from Australia have been splendid after 15 years.
And some ridiculously expensive cabernets that should have been transcendent were, in spite of meticulous storage, stale and boring.
If you're eager to experience the grace that can come with bottle age, you might want to make room for a few Bordeaux. The angular, often dusty tannins typical of many reds from that region help hold things together while the fruit evolves into earthier, complex secondary flavours, such as leather and tobacco.
Sticking with France, I'd make an almost equally strong case for the Rhône Valley, not just because the best reds tend to be more affordable than blue-chip Bordeaux but because they tend to come into their own more quickly – within, say, 10 years – cutting your wait time in half.
But those places, and others in France, are hardly alone. California cabernet, Rioja and old-vine Priorat grenaches from Spain, Chianti riservas and Barolos from Italy and sweet vintage Port from Portugal all rank highly with patient wine buyers in the know.
On the bargain front, consider cabernets from Chile, worthy reds that don't get the cellar space they deserve.
Contrary to common belief, certain white styles are able to evolve gracefully, too, most notably riesling, which can become more honeyed and wonderfully pungent and toasty. I've socked away more than a few Canadian rieslings in the hope of tasting local glory 10 or 15 years from now.
And while I'm on the subject, let me stress a point I've made privately to many curious readers: Spirits do not improve with time. Once bottled, they're embalmed.
If the label reads "18 Years Old," that means the distillate spent almost two decades extracting all-important flavours from oak barrels. Wood contact is the only thing that can significantly improve a highalcohol beverage. Keep that same bottle on your bar, unopened, for another few decades and what you've got is, I'm sorry to report, an 18-year-old in suspended animation. Like Rose Kennedy, it may be well-preserved, but it won't be like old wine.
Bollinger La Grande Année Brut Rosé Champagne 2004 (France)
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $199.95
Great Champagne can age beautifully, and this 11-year-old is probably just halfway through its glorious run. Highly aromatic with honey, flowers and yeasty dough, it's silky below the froth, with flavours of chamomile tea, fresh bread, lemon and a Sherry-like nuttiness that linger longer than a sumo wrestler at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Domain Grand Veneur Les Origines Châteauneuf-du– Pape 2010 (France)
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $64.95
Such satisfying weight here without the syrupy sweetness of so many other full-bodied wines. The succulent berry-like fruit hangs on a spine of pleasantly sticky tannins, with notes of licorice and wild herbs taking it to a marvellously long finish. Delectable now, it should evolve gracefully for 15 years.
Various prices in Alta.
Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2012 (France)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $28.95
Smooth and luscious, this southern Rhône red is packed with fruit as well as savoury suggestions of licorice, herbs and pepper, dense yet lively.
Lay it down for a decade and prepare for awesomeness.
Available in Ontario.
Il Molino di Grace Il Margone Riserva Chianti Classico 2007 (Italy)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $34.95
Chiantis labelled "riserva" tend to come with more concentration than standard Chiantis and spend more time maturing in barrel and bottle before reaching shelves. This eight-year-old already offers the sort of evolved flavours collectors live for. Medium-fullbodied, it's redolent of plum, prune, cigar tobacco and baking spices as well as a hint of wet farm soil. Think of good-quality Brunello di Montalcino, typically priced at $15 more, and you get a picture. $59.99 in B.C.
Tawse Carly's Block Riesling 2013 (Ontario)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $31.95
Made from mature, 37-year-old vines, this faintly sweet yet refreshingly tangy white is joyous now but will likely improve for up to a decade. A burst of orchard fruits, such as crisp peach, green apple and lime, eventually makes way for a bracingly chalky, mineral-like quality.
Available only through the winery, www.tawsewinery.ca.
Château Pey de Pont 2010 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $21.95
Do not open this red for five years. Your parched gums will need to be hosed down with one of those power washers used to clean interlocking brick. The tannins are massive, angular and very old-school Bordeaux.
Available in Ontario.
Malivoire Musqué Spritz 2014 (Ontario)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $19.95
Fresher than a nude slalom through Whistler's Peak to Creek run, here's a wine that wants to leap out of the bottle rather than be locked in a cellar. Sweeter than off-dry but balanced with tangy acidity, it tastes like white table grapes colliding with mandarin orange and grated ginger. Perfect with a plate of biscotti and berries on the patio.
Available in Ontario
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol recently took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards. Published by HarperCollins.