It’s true: Anyone with a lot of disposable income can stuff a wine cellar with first-growth Bordeaux, grand cru Burgundies, cult Cabernets and lauded super Tuscans. And if the goal is to show off for your golfing buddies and business associates, there’s really no substitute. But if the goal is to impress friends and family with good taste and to enjoy the pleasures of aged wines, there’s no need to spend the GDP of a small country. My cellar is living proof.
Sure, when I started collecting wine, I had those vivid fantasies of 30 years later pulling a cobwebbed bottle out of the cellar and blowing the dust off to reveal a legendary Bordeaux chateau’s label. I even indulged in a couple of bottles that fit that description. But as someone who never won the lottery, and toiled in the editorial trenches of several publishing companies before arriving at Wine Enthusiast 11 years ago, I’ve never had the money to fill the cellar the way my friends in the financial sector did.
But I didn’t let that stop me—and you shouldn’t let it stop you. One of the fascinating aspects of collecting wine is the opportunity it gives to observe how different wines evolve over time, and there’s no requirement that these wines be ultraexpensive. Despite a global trend towards more immediately drinkable wines, there are still many wines that benefit from cellaring. Here’s a highly personal selection of affordable ($30 or less) wines whose evolution should provide a decade or so of enjoyment, assuming proper storage. Bordeaux is still the gold standard by which all other collectible wines are measured, but this list should give enough variety to please most palates.
Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux. The first cases of Bordeaux I ever purchased were cru bourgeois: 1986 Château Meyney and Château Chasse-Spleen. For under $150 per case, they were what I could afford on my $18,000 annual salary. Those estates and others like them continue to offer good value in wines that should evolve for 10–15 years from the vintage. Chateaus to look for: Chasse-Spleen, Lanessan, Meyney, Potensac, Poujeaux.
Cru Beaujolais. Avoid Beaujolais nouveau, and focus on wines from the most ageworthy crus: Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent. Wines from these regions are often said to pinote, that is, to become like aged Pinot Noir. Since most premier cru Burgundies have become prohibitively expensive, these are worthy alternates. Producers to look for: Brun (Moulin-à-Vent), Château des Jacques (Morgon, MàV), Coudert (Fleurie), Descombes (Morgon), Diochon (MàV), Duboeuf (Fleurie, Morgon, MàV), Fessy (MàV), Lapierre (Morgon). Loire Cabernet Franc. The wines of Bourgueil and Chinon are foremost in this category. While some cuvées are made for early drinking, others can age 10 or more years easily. These take on some wonderfully pungent, tobacco-like notes with age. Producers to look for: Amirault, Baudry, Breton, Couly-Dutheil, Joguet, Raffault.
Côtes du Rhône Villages. Many of these wines are meant to be consumed within the first few years after the vintage, but those from top producers, particularly cuvées incorporating large proportions of Syrah or Mourvèdre, can go 10-plus years. Look also for wines from Rasteau, recently promoted to cru status. Producers to look for: Alary (Cairanne), Escaravailles (Rasteau), La Font du Vent (Signargues), La Soumade (Rasteau), L’Oratoire Saint-Martin (Cairanne), Mourchon (Séguret)
Chianti Classico. Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino may get all the headlines, but for solid examples of Tuscan Sangiovese, there’s no need to pay for the marquee names. Producers to look for: Felsina, Fontodi, Monsanto, Rocca della Macìe, Volpaia Rioja. For wines capable of aging up to 10 years or more from the vintage at a reasonable price, concentrate on wines labeled reserva, although some crianzas will also fare well. Producers to look for: Beronia, Bodegas Palacio, El Coto, Finca Allende, Marqués de Cáceres, Muga, Sierra Cantabria.
South Australian Reds. Aside from most of the mass-produced stuff, almost any South Australian Cabernet, Shiraz or blend thereof should have enough stuffing to last 5–8 years from the vintage. The ones mentioned here might do more than last. Producers (wines) to look for: D’Arenberg (The Cadenzia, The Footbolt), Hazyblur (Cabernet), Jim Barry (The Cover Drive), Longview (Devil’s Elbow), Penfolds (Bin 28, Bin 389, Bin 407), Yalumba (Menzies The Cigar).
Because some common white wine styles don’t age well (e.g., most New World Chardonnays, unoaked Sauvignon Blancs), whites are often overlooked as cellar candidates. Space precludes a comprehensive listing of white wine suggestions, but here are some general categories worth exploring: Hunter Valley Semillon, Australian Riesling, German Riesling, Muscadet, Loire Chenin Blanc and Chablis.
These examples should help balance out your collection of ageworthy wines:
Hunter Semillon. Grown in a warm, subtropical zone, these grapes are picked early, before they’re overly susceptible to rot, yielding wines that are low in alcohol, hard and greenly acidic when young, But they develop toasty, honeyed notes after cellaring. Producers to look for: Brokenwood, Keith Tulloch, Tyrrell’s.
Australian Riesling. Even such large-production wines as Jacob’s Creek can age surprisingly well, trading bracing acidity for hints of honey and marmalade while remaining refreshingly dry. Producers to look for: D’Arenberg, Frankland Estate, Jacob’s Creek (especially Reserve and Steingarten), Jim Barry, Kilikanoon, Knappstein, Koonowla, Pauletts, Penfolds, Peter Lehmann, Pewsey Vale, Pikes, Reilly’s.
German Riesling. Almost any well made kabinett should be able to go 10 years, and they and even many spätlese still come in under $30. Look for the intense floral notes and sweetness of youth to give way, revealing greater underlying minerality over time. Producers to look for: Dr. Loosen, Joannishof, Mosbacher, St. Urbans-Hof, Schäfer-Fröhlich
Muscadet. The quintessential light, dry oyster wine can age surprisingly well, kept vibrant by its acidity and bolstered in the midpalate by lees contact. Producers to look for: Domaine de la Pepière, Domaine de l’Ecu, Louvetrie, Luneau-Papin.
Loire Chenin Blanc. Several of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc appellations yield wines that can sometimes seem immortal. Huet’s Vouvrays are perhaps most notable in that regard, but don’t overlook Savennières. Producers to look for: Baumard (Savennières), Moncontour (Vouvray), Chidaine (Vouvray), Closel (Savennières), Huet (Vouvray), Pinon (Vouvray).
Chablis. Although most villages-level Chablis is meant to drink young, it’s still possible to find premier cru Chablis for under $30. These will give you more honeyed ripeness in time, along with more pronounced mineral notes—a win-win. Producers to look for: Brocard, Christian Moreau, Droin, Fevre, La Chablisienne.