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Tips for a Starter Wine Collector


The wines we offer at the Wine Butler are intended to be consumed young. Most are not to be age, stored for no longer than a year. Yet, we would love to be part of your journey in begging a wine collection. And to help you, here is an interesting article from The Wall Street Journal on wine picks for a starter collector:

“Our advice to people who want to start a big, serious collection is simple: Relax. Take your time. The only collection worth having is one filled with wines you like. When you have a wine you enjoy, especially one that tastes young to you — perhaps tough or mouth-puckering — buy more. Your cellar will fill up before you know it. There’s no reason to rush.

To be sure, most wine is made to be drunk pretty much right away. Most Pinot Grigio, for instance, should have been drunk yesterday. And we’ve found that most inexpensive American Zinfandels and Merlots are drink-now wines because they often lack enough tannins or acids to give them much of a long life.

At Its Peak, or Over the Hill?

All that said, tasting how a wine changes with age, even just a little age, is one of the pleasures of wine drinking. We’re asked all the time how you can tell when a wine is at its peak. Our best answer is that you can’t know for sure until you open it. Every wine is different, every bottle is different and storage conditions matter. But wines do change with time, for better or worse, and we’ve always gotten a thrill from the element of surprise. We have sometimes cellared very inexpensive bottles — usually not intentionally, but because we just didn’t get around to drinking them — and found that, some years later, they could easily pass for very expensive wines. On the other hand, of course, we’ve opened bottles after a few years that should have been great but that were sadly over the hill.

Here’s a good starter case of wines that might change over two or three years, giving you some hint of what age can do for a wine. For those of you who can wait longer, give it a try. Obviously, very expensive wines, like great red Bordeaux from France and fine Barolo from Italy, often age beautifully for a long time, but we’ve focused here on wines under $30. In the best of all possible worlds, you’d buy two of each, drink one now and take notes on it so you’ll appreciate how the second one has changed over a few years.

A good California bubbly.

such as Roederer Estate Brut from California. The French and British love to debate whether Champagne improves with age (French: no; British: yes). All we know is what we taste, and we have found that good California bubbly seems to calm down and get richer and nuttier with even a little bit of cellaring.

Macon from France.

We reported last year that we were surprised to find that Macon, which is a pretty simple white from Burgundy, improved with some age. Laboure-Roi and Louis Jadot are good names to look for. More-expensive white Burgundies are often much better with some serious age.

An American Chardonnay.

We have found that most lower-end American Chardonnays these days are best drunk young (though you might want to experiment with a Bogle, which has lovely acids). Critics for years have said that even upper-end American Chardonnay is too fat and fruity to age with grace. See for yourself. In a tasting last year, we specifically said that Miner makes an age-worthy Chardonnay, but if you can’t find that, try Rombauer or Phelps or the midrange offerings from Mondavi or Beringer.

A good, midrange California Cabernet Sauvignon.

While too many lower-end Cabernets lack character — and probably won’t gain anything from age — there are some good, age-worthy ones once you move a little upscale. Lay down one of the midrange Gallos, such as the Barrelli Creek Vineyard. When you find it’s delicious in a year or two, it will belie the idea that only precious wines age well.

An American Syrah.

These tend to be very serious, massive wines that are often so explosive in youth that they’re hard to drink, and very hard to pair with food. You will have a better wine after a few years, far smoother and more drinkable. Turnbull, Robert Craig and Qupe are good names to look for, but don’t be choosy.

An American Pinot Noir.

The better ones have soulful red-berry flavors, good acids and some earth, and with a little time might develop deeper, resonating flavors. Saintsbury makes good ones in different price ranges. These are the perfect accompaniment for just about every kind of food.

German Riesling

from the 2001 vintage. These lovely whites are fruity and crisp in their youth and then develop some richness and more complex tastes with age.

A good Chianti.

Most of us think of Chianti as a simple, easy-drinking wine that we pop open to have with spaghetti. But better Chianti — look for Chianti Classico, perhaps Riserva, that costs $20 to $25 — is beautiful, complex wine. With some age, you’ll see that it develops even more elegance and layers of flavor. Antinori is always a good name to look for. Cennatoio is remarkable, and good old Ruffino Riserva Ducale, with the gold label, is very reliable.

A midrange Bordeaux from the 2000 vintage.

This was a fine vintage and the better wines are arriving now. Just choose one in your price range. Especially in a good year, young Bordeaux can be tough and hard to enjoy, but with time it softens and becomes more lovely. In any event, Bordeaux is the classic lay-down wine, so your case just has to have one or two.

An inexpensive 2000 Bordeaux.

Some of these lower-end Bordeaux from small, largely unknown producers can be quite good in special years, offering a lot of wine for the money. You could get lucky, finding these taste much more expensive later. If not, it’s a small amount of money to gamble.

A red Rhone.

These tend to be big, rough wines that, in many cases, calm down a bit and get easier to drink in time. Look for a Rhone wine from Saint-Joseph, Gigondas, Vacqueyras or Crozes-Hermitage. Guigal is always a good producer to look for.

Sauternes, in a half-bottle.

This classic dessert wine is such fun to lay down, not just because it gets better but because it gets darker and even more beautiful in the clear bottle. Get a half-bottle both because it’s more affordable and because it will age a little more quickly, giving you a better sense of what Sauternes tastes like with some years on it. Many dessert wines from all over the world age just about forever, getting even more luscious and more concentrated.

Now, take your case of wine and lay the wines flat in a place where it’s dark, with a moderate temperature. Mark your calendar and start opening them in a year, or two or three. The changes will be interesting. But more important, you will see that there’s no big trick to cellaring wine. One reason people don’t keep wine around the house is that they’re terrified they’ll ruin it somehow. Wine is pretty tough. By safely storing these for a while, and then finding that they taste great, you will have gotten over that hurdle.”

When you discover your favourite selection make sure to stock up. You can book an appointment with us at Come make wine at our Toronto or Mississauga locations.