For those wondering which corks to pull first. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. For more detail on Italian, Spanish and German vintages, see Italian, Spanish and German vintages to drink now.
Most of the time I write about wines you can buy now, which means concentrating far too exclusively on recent vintages. But I know that some readers buy and store wine in the hope of saving money and in the expectation of nurturing it until it has developed suitable maturity and complexity.
It’s true that winemakers almost everywhere are deliberately making wines that can be drunk much earlier than in the old days when cooler summers and less-sensitive winemaking resulted in tart, tough wines that absolutely had to be aged before they were drinkable. I have been tasting 2019 burgundies and 2018 bordeaux intensively recently and have been amazed by how approachable and luscious many of them are already. But modern winemakers, while being aware of general societal impatience, and the costs associated with storing wine, certainly hope the wines they make today will last every bit as long as their predecessors. So far I see no evidence of modern wines maturing too fast – despite the warming globe.
There is no doubt however that many wines, especially reds, and especially red bordeaux, top red burgundies, red wines from the Rhône, Piemonte and Tuscany, do improve with bottle age – and to a certain extent it is the ability to age that those who buy wine en primeur, in its extreme youth, are paying for.
So, for those who are lucky enough to have a collection of maturing wine, here are some suggestions as to which vintages to tackle now. There will always be examples, often the most expensive wines, that deserve even longer in bottle – just as the least expensive examples tend to age fastest. Those of us who are not billionaires tut over the modern tendency of those few who can afford the world’s most expensive wines to pull their corks too early. (If only we owned them, we’d look after them properly, is the underlying accusation.) But my suggested vintages apply to wines of a quality between these two extremes, and a British palate is assumed. (In general the French tend to drink wine younger than we Brits with our traditions of connoisseurship do.)
Bordeaux will be a major focus of this article since it still constitutes the majority of the wines bought to be cellared. The youngest red bordeaux vintage I’d be actively pulling out of my cellar would be 2014, a vintage often overlooked because the 2016s are so stupendous and the 2015s so tannic and potentially long-lived.
If you have any Bordeaux 2013s in your cellar, for heaven’s sake drink them. Without much ceremony. The 2012s are generally a bit better and the 2011s better still – in fact their only sin was that they followed the stellar pair of vintages 2009 and 2010, which sold at sky-high prices. If you have a fair quantity of these last two vintages, definitely pull the corks on most of the ripe 2009s, which are at peak now, while waiting for the 2010s to round out and shed their tannin. But many a 2010 should be starting to drink well now too.
If I had every earlier vintage of the first decade of this century of the same notional average red bordeaux in my cellar, I would drink them in roughly this order: 2002, 2007, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000, 2006, 2008 and then the very concentrated 2005s. For my money the under-appreciated vintages in this line-up are 2001, which can outshine the 2000s, especially the Pomerols and St-Émilions, and 2004, which I have described as ‘the last affordable vintage’ and has been giving me a great deal of pleasure. The heatwave 2003 vintage is an oddball, made before human and vine got used to hot summers, and therefore many wines have a sweet, raisined quality to them which is not always unattractive – but is certainly unusual.
Any red bordeaux grown and made in the last century is worth trying now and 1991 to 1993 inclusive should generally have been drunk quite a time ago.
As for burgundy, the overall quality of vine-growing and winemaking seem to have increased with every vintage recently so that my sentiments are almost like those I used to have about New World wines: they get better every year so buy the most recent vintage. In Burgundy itself, not a region that is slow to attack its own wines, the relatively, soft early-maturing 2017 is often the vintage of choice. And it has the great advantage of being still available and not too ridiculously expensive – partly because its reputation was blighted by hoopla over the 2018 vintage.
For grand cru red burgundies that deserve bottle age, there’s a sweet spot at the beginning of this century with a run of good vintages from 2000 to the extraordinarily hot (for then) 2003 vintage, whose best wines should probably be drunk now. For, say, premier cru red burgundies, vintages 2006, 2007 and 2008 would be good choices.
It is still probably a bit early to drink the longest-lived 2009s and 2010s of the northern Rhône but the much lighter 2011s and 2012s should provide great pleasure now, ditto the 2006s.
For the southern Rhône, I asked Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for his recommendations, knowing his keen interest in the progress of the array of vintages in his cellar. He’s a big fan of the supple, ‘burgundian’ 2014 vintage for reds, and is also starting to open bottles from the more structured 2012 and 2013 vintages. He recommends both 2011 and 2004 as vintages whose wines have been approachable throughout their lives.
British collectors have, I hope, been following their American counterparts in adding Italian wines worth ageing to their cellars. Our Italian specialist Walter Speller suggests 2001 and 2004 are ideal vintages of Barolo to drink now, plus perhaps the 2015s, which are unlikely to make old bones. In neighbouring Barbaresco go for 2004 and 2011, and such 2014s as you can find. They are likely to be bargains from this unfairly maligned year in which Barbaresco escaped much of the rain that plagued Barolo’s reputation. For Brunello di Montalcino 2010 and 2012 are his picks.
His Spanish counterpart Ferran Centelles recommends 2010 and 2011 as great Rioja vintages with 2004 and 2005 having already matured nicely. If you have a good 2001 Rioja in your cellar, count yourself lucky as they have virtually disappeared from the market.
If only more vintners followed the example of some of Spain’s more traditional wine producers and released wines only when they are ready to drink. But then I suppose it would put the wine storage providers out of their currently flourishing business.
I will write about white wines next week.
How to store wine
Consistent temperature under 20 °C (68 °F), relative humidity of around 75% and an absence of direct light, vibration and strong smells constitute ideal conditions. Wines will age faster in warm conditions.
Specific wine fridges are popular but they use up space and energy. The alternative, or complement, is a professional wine storage provider such as those listed below.
Berry Bros & Rudd
LCB Vinothèque and LCB Dinton
The Wine Society
Many serious wine collectors in the US build their own cellars.
Western Carriers, NJ
Bordeaux City Bond
Crown Wine Cellars and many more
Free vintage profiles and details of wine storage providers worldwide on JancisRobinson.com. And see also Italian, Spanish and German vintages to drink now.