Your Cheat Sheet to Cellaring Wine

Sip or save? Spotting collectible wines may seem daunting, but fear not—help is here with our simple guide to 10 age-worthy styles perfect for your cellar.
Photo by Jens Johnson

There’s no denying the pure pleasure and immense gratification that comes from enjoying a perfectly cellared, mature, peak-drinking wine from your collection. But to get there? Oh, the agony.

They say the waiting is the hardest part, but have you ever actually tried to buy an iconic or widely recognized, cellar-worthy bottle? Though some people might have good retail connections, as well as the means to afford such prized bottlings, not everyone is so fortunate.

And while there are plenty of wines out there that are easy to find and afford, how do you know which ones are worthy of being tucked away for two, five, 10 years or even more? Can you amass a cellar-worthy collection that offers high quality and class without going bankrupt?

The answer is yes, and we’re here to help.

We tapped our experienced editors and tasters to take a look at 10 classic, cellar-friendly regions and wine types across a variety of styles. They give you the lowdown on what defines the Cellar Standards, as well as insider tips on how to update your collection with exciting, available, high-quality and value-minded Modern Marvels worthy of your investment and your cellar space.

Welcome to a new age of wine collecting.

Château Palmer and Le Dôme.
Red Bordeauxs from Château Palmer and Le Dôme / Photo by Jens Johnson

Red Bordeaux

Why It’s Classic: There is no red blend more emulated around the world than the combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that was created in Bordeaux. It’s the most collected, most sold at auction and most valued category of wine—especially those from classified first growths and other top estates. Red Bordeaux has only improved over the years: It’s riper, better made and more reliable in terms of quality, even in lesser vintages, resulting in wines that are drinkable younger but look likely to age as well as great Bordeaux vintages of the past. For collectors who want to drink the wines as they mature, this is a golden age.

Cellar Standards

Château Cheval Blanc, Château Léoville Las Cases, Château Palmer

Modern Marvels

Château Pontet-Canet, Château Valandraud, Le Dôme

Why Collect These Now: While the classics of the Left Bank of Bordeaux, the land of Cabernet Sauvignon, have by and large remained the same (if even better), one outstanding estate has reinvented itself: Château Pontet-Canet has used biodynamic viticulture, clay amphorae and a strong—almost religious—drive to craft some of the best and most exciting wines in Bordeaux today. The Right Bank, where Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominate, has changed dramatically. The ’90s and ’00s garagiste movement of powerful, rich, small-production wines has faded, giving way to new garagiste classics of elegance and availability, two of which we include here (Château Valandraud and Le Dôme). —Roger Voss

Wine from Louis Latour and Benjamin Leroux.
White Burgundys Louis Latour and Benjamin Leroux / Photo by Jens Johnson

White Burgundy

Why It’s Classic: This is what many consider to be the true home of Chardonnay and the model for Chardonnay around the world. The wines are light in oak or wood influence, always harmonious and well integrated. There is an ethereal balance between the fruit and acidity that is always present in wines from this relatively cool-climate region, which means that these are eminently ageworthy. The quantities of the top grand cru wines, from vineyards first planted by monks in the Middle Ages, are small, adding rarity value to arguably the greatest white wines in the world.

Cellar Standards

Domaine Leflaive, Louis Jadot, Louis Latour

Modern Marvels

Benjamin Leroux, Camille Giroud, Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils

Why Collect These Now: History is important in Burgundy. Few producers can totally reinvent a wheel that turns so well. It can be a change of generation in a family company that converts workman-like wines into stars, or simply an overhaul of technique or ideology. These recommendations are a cross-section of old and new names that are making waves and great, long-lived white wines: An established Chablis producer, Christian Moreau, with a new generation in charge; an old négociant, Camille Giroud, with a new philosophy; and a young négociant, Benjamin Leroux, set up by a Burgundian insider. —R.V.

Wine from W & J Graham’s and Wine & Soul.
Vintage Ports from from W & J Graham’s and Wine & Soul / Photo by Jens Johnson

Vintage Port

Why It’s Classic: Of all the classic ageworthy wines, it could be argued that vintage Port from Portugal’s Douro Valley is the longest lived. Within the last 10 years, I have tasted vintages from the 19th century that were still full of life. It is also one of the rarest of the classic styles—the top vintage Ports are only produced two, maybe three, times a decade, when Port producers pronounce a “general declaration” for the year (meaning the majority of Port houses have “declared” the vintage due to the high quality of the final wines). Vintage Ports are aged for two years in barrel before release, but the virtue of patience for extended cellaring will always have its own memorable reward.

Cellar Standards

Quinta do Noval, Taylor Fladgate, W & J Graham’s

Modern Marvels

Quinta de la Rosa, Quinta do Vale Meão, Wine & Soul

Why Collect These Now: The biggest shakeup in vintage Port has been the arrival of independent quintas (wine-growing estates) onto a scene that was dominated by a few large Port shippers for a more than a century. In addition to new families, they have brought a sense of place, rather than just a brand, to Port. Some quintas have storied histories as wine estates, others are new creations. Their quality and scores place them at the top. While their ageability over decades is yet to be tested, they’re likely to keep pace with the classic greats as they mature. —R.V.

CVNE Imperial and Viñedos de Páganos El Puntido.
CVNE Imperial and Viñedos de Páganos El Puntido / Photo by Jens Johnson

Rioja Gran Reserva

Why It’s Classic: Rioja gran reservas, which must spend a minimum of five years in oak and bottle before release, rank as Spain’s most elegant and ageworthy red wines. Based entirely or largely on Tempranillo, often with small amounts of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) blended in for structure, a fine Rioja gran reserva draws strength and longevity from punchy natural acidity. Complex flavors come from the combination of hand-selected premium grapes and extended aging in high-quality barrels. Top recent vintages include 2001, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

Cellar Standards

CVNE Imperial; Marqués de Murrieta Finca Ygay; La Rioja Alta 904

Modern Marvels

Remelluri; Viñedos de Páganos El Puntido; Baron de Ley

Why Collect These Now: Whereas traditional Rioja gran reservas have long relied on American oak, many newer versions are aged in French oak barrels, which impart darker, toastier flavors and less of the vanilla and tobacco notes associated with American oak. Other common traits of modern gran reservas are riper fruit and more richness. Remember, rules governing what can be labeled Rioja gran reserva only apply to aging protocols; the gran reserva name alone does not guarantee that a wine labeled as such will be excellent or ageworthy. —Michael Schachner

Wines from Gianni Brunelli, and Biondi Santi.
Brunello di Montalcinos from Gianni Brunelli, and Biondi Santi / Photo by Jens Johnson

Brunello di Montalcino

Why It’s Classic: Few wines possess the depth, complexity and longevity of Brunello di Montalcino. Made entirely from Sangiovese and created by the Biondi Santi family in the late 19th century, vertical tastings have demonstrated Brunello’s ability to age for decades. Hailing from high-altitude vineyards, classic offerings are fragrant, vibrant, elegant and impeccably balanced. More complex than muscular, they boast sensations of violet, wild cherry, pipe tobacco and earthy notes of leather and underbrush. Bright acidity and firm, refined tannins give them their incredible aging potential. Most estates are small with limited production, meaning many of these gorgeous wines have hefty price tags.

Cellar Standards

Biondi Santi, Conti Costanti, Fuligni

Modern Marvels

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Gianni Brunelli, Le Potazzine

Why Collect These Now: There are now more than 200 Brunello producers across the denomination displaying an array of styles, from ethereal to powerful and everything in between. A number of estates are turning out seductive Brunellos that, while still incredibly ageworthy, are approachable sooner than wines made by some of the more storied houses. The best boast succulent fruit, firm, ripe tannins and a compelling combination of structure and elegance. And while never cheap, when compared to more famous, historic labels, many of these younger firms offer impressive quality-to-price ratios that make them a must for any wine lover. —Kerin O’Keefe

Wines from Kracher and Esterházy.
Sweet wines from Kracher and Esterházy / Photo by Jens Johnson

Austrian Sweet Wines

Why It’s Classic: Austrian eiswein, made from frozen grapes, as well as fully or partially botrytized auslesen, beerenauslesen, trockenbeerenauslesen and Ausbruch (the term for TBAs from the town of Rust) have historic local fame but deserve a wider audience. Based on grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Pinot Gris and even red grapes like Zweigelt, their ample sweetness is a natural preservative that makes them mature effortlessly. Their rich flavors become even more layered and alluring over time. These viscous dessert wines are naturally produced in tiny quantities, so they are rare and precious from the outset and become even more so with age.

Cellar Standards

Feiler-Artinger, Kracher, Rosenhof

Modern Marvels

Günter & Regina Triebaumer, Heidi Schröck, Esterházy

Why Collect These Now: Being based on less acidic grape varieties than your usual eisweins or botrytized selections from France, Germany or Hungary, these east-Austrian sweeties offer a different, more rounded, but equally durable flavor profile. While concentrated in both sugar and acidity, they have a milder bearing and are thus immensely well suited to pairing with rich desserts, a discipline in which the Austrians have form. Marillenpalatschinken (apricot pancakes) with a glass of Ausbruch is heaven, but, as adventurous Heidi Schröck suggests via her labels, hot, spicy and very salty dishes, full-flavored game and sharp blue cheeses also sing with these wines. —Anne Krebiehl, MW

Wine from Schloss Johannisberg and J.B. Becker.
German Rieslings from Schloss Johannisberg and J.B. Becker / Photo by Jens Johnson

German Riesling

Why It’s Classic: Spine-tingling acidity is key to Riesling’s longevity across all styles, from bone dry to fully sweet and everything in between. Fruity-sweet (spätlese or auslese, for example) and fully sweet (beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese or eiswein) Rieslings, particularly from the Mosel or Rheingau, are ideal for long-term cellaring, with residual sugar lending extra preservation powers. Exuberant fruit and floral tones—peach, citrus or honeysuckle—become muted with age, while notes of savory earth, toast and honey develop. Over 10–15 years, those characteristics evolve into deeper complexities of caramel and forest floor, and often taste drier in style. These wines can last decades; some even a century.

Cellar Standards

Joh. Jos. Prüm, Karthäuserhof, Schloss Johannisberg

Modern Marvels

Emrich-Schönleber, J.B. Becker, Keller

Why Collect These Now: Over the last few decades, quality winemaking has skyrocketed, and coveted small-production wines from all over Germany are increasingly available abroad. Beyond Germany’s fruity classics, trocken, or dry, Grosses Gewächs (“great growths” designated by the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, or VDP) and other premium dry Rieslings have flourished. For lovers of mature white wines, they offer a compelling, often lesser-priced alternative with a high tolerance to premature oxidation. These powerful dry wines may seem closed in early years, but open dramatically, gaining depth of aroma, flavor and texture over 5–15 years. —Anna Lee C. Iijima

Wine from Amon- Ra and Penfolds.
Shiraz from Amon-Ra and Penfolds / Photo by Jens Johnson
How Can You Tell if a Young Wine Will Age?

South Australian Shiraz

Why It’s Classic: Ever since Penfolds released its most famous wine, the Shiraz-based Grange, in 1951, Australia’s reputation for producing bold, rich and long-lived Shiraz hasn’t waned. Whether from Eden Valley, McLaren Vale or Barossa itself, Shiraz and South Australia go hand in hand. These days, while the style is still big and brash, brimming with ripe fruit, oak spice and hefty tannins, there is increased focus on elegance and tension, resulting in extraordinarily long-lived and complex wines. Cellar standards, like Penfolds’ Grange, Torbreck’s RunRig and Henschke’s Hill of Grace, can easily age for 50 years or more.

Cellar Standards

Penfolds, Torbreck, Henschke

Modern Marvels

Standish, Glaetzer, Kalleske

Why Collect These Now: Perhaps less familiar names stateside, these producers enjoy near cult status down under, especially for their high-end bottlings, like Standish’s The Standish, Glaetzer’s Amon-Ra and Kalleske’s Greenock Single Vineyard Shiraz. Lucky for us they’re all currently available in the U.S. The wines walk a stylistic line between contemporary and traditional while remaining unmistakably South Aussie. Unlike their more established brethren, they tend to be more approachable when young—leave them be for 10–20 years, however, and watch them transform them into bottles of complex beauty. They’ll also put a smaller dent in your wallet, so a win all around. —Christina Pickard

Cabernet from Harlan Estate and Alpha Omega.
Cabernet from Harlan Estate and Alpha Omega / Photo by Jens Johnson

Napa Valley Cabernet

Why It’s Classic: Cellar-worthy Napa Cabs are full of concentrated richness and deep fruit flavors—especially in their youth—but they also often possess structure and nuance that’s best rewarded over time. When the region’s ideal climate meets the right intersection of site and winemaker, these are beautiful, ageable wines. The naturally burly tannins are tamed by time, and the exuberance of fruit mellows to allow for a more complicated, intellectual composition that’s specked with savory afterthoughts and feral intrigue.

Cellar Standards

Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Spottswoode

Modern Marvels

Alpha Omega, Inglenook, Venge

Why Collect These Now: While a winery like Inglenook has been around since 1869, they and many of our favorite contemporary producers are in step with the times, embracing a mindful approach to vineyard sourcing and farming, with an emphasis on organic certification standards. They stress balance and nuance, making wines of structure and grace amidst Napa Valley’s natural richness, in tune with modern palates. Winemaking is given the utmost attention by three of the finest winemaking minds working right now: Jean Hoefliger at Alpha Omega, Philippe Bascaules at Inglenook (who is also the winemaker at Château Margaux) and Kirk Venge. —Virginie Boone

Pinot Noir from Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Résonance.
Pinot Noir from Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Résonance / Photo by Jens Johnson

Oregon Pinot Noir

Why It’s Classic: Only time can prove that a region’s wines deserve classic status. Top-notch Oregon Pinot Noir has succeeded in staking that claim, thanks to beautiful, ageable wines that can favorably mature and evolve over decades. Most often, they are full bodied, balanced and detailed upon release. The fruit is ripe and layered, the tannins are muscular and proportionate, and the alcohol is moderate. They beautifully express both place and variety. The best continue to add notes of secondary fruits, herbs and flowers, with arresting aromatics and extended finishes. Though they are not wines that need extra time to be drinkable, they certainly reward cellaring patience with added depth, nuance and complexity.

Cellar Standards

Domaine Drouhin Oregon, The Eyrie Vineyards, Ponzi

Modern Marvels

Domaine Divio, Lavinea, Résonance

Why Collect These Now: These young wineries benefit from experience and familiarity with Pinot Noir in Burgundy. Bruno Corneaux (Divio) is a fourth generation Burgundian producer. Isabelle Meunier (Lavinea) studied at the University of Dijon and began her career in Burgundy. Jacques Lardière (Résonance) spent four decades as head winemaker for Louis Jadot. All of these producers’ Oregon wines reflect their classical training and background, showing that harmony and balance are more important than sheer power. Even in cooler vintages, these light wines, especially when sourced from old vines, can be seriously complex and undoubtedly ageworthy. —Paul Gregutt

Published on November 7, 2017
Topics: Wine Collecting



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