May 4th, 2018/ BY Sean Wood

Age Matters: Some thoughts on aging wine

I am convinced that most of us drink wine that could benefit from further aging thus missing the best qualities that the wine would show in its prime. Partly, this is because we imagine that it is very difficult to find a substantial, ready-to-drink, red wine without paying an arm and a leg. On the other hand, many wines are made today to be drunk relatively young.

The overall range and variety of wines available has also grown enormously. The grand names of Bordeaux and Burgundy, together with other prestigious wines like Napa Valley Cabernets, Barolo, Brunello and Grange Hermitage, from South Australia, have become ever more giddily expensive. For most of us, it does not make sense to buy wines that cost a fortune and still need to be laid down for many years.

Can it still make sense to lay wine down? When you buy well-aged wine, you are paying the cost that someone else incurred by storing it for the necessary time. If you buy wines shortly after they are released (often the only kind you can find), they are more likely to be ready to drink than in the past. This does not mean, though, that many of them would not improve with a bit more time in the bottle. Today, winemakers are well aware that most wines will be drunk shortly after purchase. Thus, they make wines that emphasize ripe fruit, ones easy to drink young.

When first released, however, such wines still show “primary,” rather than “developed” fruit. The term “primary” describes the characteristic that you get when biting into a fresh apple or a ripe strawberry. “Developed” refers to what happens as the wine evolves with further aging. The primary fruit character subsides and is replaced by more subtle flavours. Youthful acids and tannins also soften, making for a more rounded impression on the palate. While most modern wines do not need prolonged cellaring — like some of the green, heavily tannic reds of yesteryear — many will still benefit from two to five years further aging. Big, heavily concentrated reds may need 7 to 10 years. Remember that sour stomach from eating too much fresh fruit as a kid? Even pleasantly ripe young red wines have some of the same raw acidity as fresh fruit.



Is aging wine really worth the trouble and expense?

Your reward for patience ought to pay you a dividend in the form of a much finer tasting wine.

More years ago than I care to remember, I had an experience that fully convinced me that laying wine down can deliver great rewards. I was living in London, England, at the time and buying a very affordable Bordeaux red from Graves, Château Crabitey. Initially, it tasted pleasantly rough, though appetizing — about what you would expect at the price. Over the course of the next six to nine months, though, it started to evolve into something much more complex, elegant and even regal, rivalling much more prestigious wines. It is, I admit, rare to see such a miraculous transformation over such a short time, but once experienced, you are a convert for life. The rewards for a small investment and a little patience are definitely real and provide one of the greatest joys that wine can give

What do you need to set up a cellar?

It takes a certain amount of planning and discipline, but setting up even a small cellar of your own will greatly benefit you in the long run. You can start out with as few as four to five cases (about 48 to 60 bottles). If you can commit to that, you will have the basis for a worthwhile cellar. Even if your space is limited, there are inexpensive storage units available through local wine supply stores that can handle 100+ bottles in a unit that takes up about the same space as a large bookcase. There are also modular units with which you can start out small and add to as your collection grows.

A cool, dark place, free of vibrations and with a fairly constant temperature around 10 to 12 degrees Celsius is ideal. Fortunately, though, wine is a fairly hardy beverage and can stand up to conditions that fall short of the optimum. The worst hazards are large and sudden temperature swings and too much light.

Wine stored at a higher temperature will, however, tends to age faster. Obviously if the temperature is extreme you could have a problem. Prolonged exposure to light should also be avoided since this too will destroy wine, especially white wines in clear bottles. Bottles should be stored on their sides in order to keep corks moist and avoid spoilage by excessive exposure to air. We are still learning how alternative closures such as synthetics and screw caps will behave over time, so I would store them the same way as conventionally corked bottles. So long as you have a reasonably cool area, not exposed to direct sunlight and about the size of a large bookcase, you are in business.

As an example: if you are able to spend around $800 to $1,200 (based on five cases of 12 bottles, at roughly $15 to $20 per bottle), with careful selection you could lay down some very decent wines, especially from lesser known regions that have not become too pricey. However, if you do not want to make this kind of commitment, you can start even smaller. Find a wine you feel may have a bit of aging potential and buy, say, six bottles. Open one every six months or so, and see how the wine develops over time.

If you buy wines shortly after they are released (often the only kind you can find), they are more likely to be ready to drink than in the past.

Moderately-priced wines worth laying down today: some general guidelines

The suggestions offered here are but a small cross-section of what is available. Look also for lesser known wines from southern France, southern Italy, Sicily and Greece. Suffice it to say, there are many other treasures out there for you to discover on your own voyage of discovery!



where to start


Secondary Bordeaux appellations, Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superiéur

Great values can be found in less celebrated areas that have found themselves left out of the more prestigious (and lucrative) appellations. With the application of modern techniques in the vineyard and higher standards in the cellar, we are seeing moderately priced, increasingly good wines coming from many sub-regions of Bordeaux. This is particularly true of the Right Bank. Côtes de Bourg, Côtes de Castillon, Fronsac and Côtes de Blaye all boast greatly improved, and in some cases, really stellar wines.

In the vast area between the Médoc, on the Left Bank, and the Right Bank, lie the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Entre Deux Mers. The latter classification is specifically for whites, while reds can claim only the title Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur. This is an especially good place to find value. Well-capitalized, efficient operations are producing good, solid wines. And there are plenty of these wines on the Canadian market.

Beaujolais from top Villages

Especially Moulin-à-Vent, Saint-Amour and Morgon. While most Beaujolais is fine for early drinking, better examples will age like Burgundian Pinot Noir.

Great values can be found in less celebrated areas that have found themselves left out of the more prestigious (and lucrative) appellations.


In 2017, Spain offers some of the best values around. To a greater extent than elsewhere, new investment in better growing and winemaking techniques has delivered excellent results throughout the country. Some regional varieties, such as Mencia in the Bierzo region, are emerging stars. Even Rioja, Spain’s best-known region, is undergoing a revolution. New styles are emerging, some of them outstanding values. Navarra, Toro, Jumilla, Monsant and sub-regions of the formerly scorned La Mancha are also showing great promise. Quite a number of age-worthy Spanish wines can be found for as little as $12.


It was once widely believed that Australian wines do not age particularly well. This is certainly not true for many fine Australian wines, especially the respected upper-tier offerings from great producers such as Penfolds. I have tasted many of Penfolds’ older vintages over the few years, including a couple that had been around for almost half a century. In age-worthiness, the best can rival the greats of Bordeaux. There are also many good, age-wothy offerings in the $17 to $20 range.

some suggestions to start you off

Alvarez de Toledo Luis Varela Mencia Roble 2013, Bierzo DO, Spain ($16.99)

Shows deeply concentrated dark fruit with a touch of clove, graphite and subtle earthy notes on the nose. Black plum and blackcurrant with firm, dry tannic grip and slightly aggressive acidity in the mouth will benefit from an additional 3 to 5 years in the cellar.

Bodegas Ramírez de la Piscina Crianza 2013, Rioja DOC, Spain ($21.99)

Fragrant floral scents with red berry and red currant and a light pinch of spice shifts to thickly textured dark berry fruit on the palate. Solid structure with a splash of dark chocolate and black fruit on the finish. It would earn 88 points now but 89–90 when more fully integrated and harmonious (3+ additional years).

Bodegas Nekeas Vega Sindoa Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Estate Bottled, Navarra DO, Spain ($18.99)

Planted at high elevation in the foothills of the Pyrenees, this one reveals warmly scented red currant accented by subtle cinnamon with background earthy and gamey aromas. Piquant blackcurrant melds with red currant and a suggestion of raspberry on the palate. Tannins are fairly light but still show youthful dry grip. Acidity, too, will benefit by softening from another 2 years’ cellaring.

Chateau de Pizay 2011, Morgon AC, France ($23.99)

Morgon, one of the premier “Villages Appellations” within the Beaujolais region, is noted for tannic, well-structured wines that can age like good Pinot Noir. This one provides abundant evidence that 2011 is yet another winning vintage for Beaujolais — the third in a row. It shows quintessential white peppery spice and seductive black cherry scents with generous fruit, weight and structure. Eminently quaffable at present but will certainly reward further keeping.

Wakefield Shiraz 2014, Clare Valley, South Australia ($17.99)

Developed dark berry and mulberry fruit with clove, allspice and a suggestion of pencil box on the nose. Not as developed as the nose suggests, though, showing forward acidity and slightly harsh tannins over thick blackberry fruit. Good fruit and subtle oak on the finish but needs more time to integrate.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet 2015, South Australia ($17.99)

Raspberry, blackberry, blackcurrant with subtle pinch of cinnamon and clove on the nose, with thick blackberry and blackcurrant leading off on the palate and raspberry in a secondary role. Acidity is still somewhat aggressive and tannins a little stiff at the moment. A solid, well-made wine that will reward keeping for 3+ years in the cellar



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