While collectors extol the virtues of the world’s greatest wines in their twilight (well-cellared) years, most Americans can’t seem to wait more than 10 minutes after buying wines to crack them open, still white wines especially.
Why do we do this? Well, because many still whites are superb when enjoyed young. Perky, clean Vinho Verde, Txakoli or Pinot Grigio; chalky, fresh Chablis; zesty Albariño. . . their vibrancy and focus is much of what makes them so appealing. But many of these whites deserve a place in the cellar, too.
Wines like white Rioja, German Riesling, Australian Semillon, white Burgundy and certainly the quirky but character-laden wines of the Jura reveal layers of complexity with decades of aging. The acidity in these wines means that along with those caramel, nut, vanilla and fig flavors, you’ll still have a wine whose parts are all in the right places.
But a recent trip to Greece made me think twice about that short list of go-to aged whites. While in Attica and on Santorini, I had the privilege to taste aged bottles of indigenous white varieties like Assyrtiko and Savatiano. These aren’t wines I had considered cellaring before, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of life they retained, even after 10 years of age. They had lost none of their vibrancy, but simply softened around the edges.
In the case of the Assyrtikos, their high acidities meant that the wines still had focus and clarity. But they had moved on from the arrow-sharp snap of young pours. After cellaring, they spread out on the tongue with delicious flavors of honeysuckle and petrol, yet still offer palate-tingling verve. The wines continued to evolve in the glass, and with greater dimension and intrigue than their zippier descendants.
I’ll be the first to declare my love for young, fresh white wines. Paired with grilled fish, chèvre or dim sum, you can’t get any better than today’s current wave of Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and other popular crisp pours. But aged white wines are a culinary journey worth experiencing. You’ll thank me when you give them a try.
15 Cellar-Worthy Whites
These are some of our tasting panel’s favorite still whites for the cellar, but they only scratch the surface of the possibilities. If you have other suggestions, tweet at @suskostrzewa and I’ll share them with our readers.
Clare/Eden Valley Riesling (8–20 years)
Grüner Veltliner (5–20 years)
Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (5–15 years);
Sonoma/Anderson Valley dry Gewürtztraminer (10–12 years)
Alsace (4–12 years);
White Bordeaux (8–12 years, or more);
Hermitage (10–30 years)
Assyrtiko (5–10 years, or more);
Roditis (5–7 years);
Savatiano (5–15 years)
Chardonnay (10 years, or more)
Chenin Blanc (5–10 years, or more)
Riesling (6–8 years, or more)