Starting a wine collection can be a bit intimidating. With so many wines to choose from and the often hefty price tags connected to the most age-worthy wines, it can be tough to decide what to buy, how much of each to buy and how long to age any of them.
You don’t need to be a millionaire or a big time wine expert to begin building a collection of wines that will reward patience and time in the cellar. This guide offers an outstanding starting point for any aspiring wine collector and will helps you to accumulate an interesting range of flavours and versatility with food.
Each of these 11 wine categories includes wines that, within the price parameters below, are not only able to evolve and change and improve over years in the cellar; they are crafted with cellaring in mind. In fact, the key attributes – like tannin and acidity – that contribute to the “age-ability” of a given wine are characteristics that don’t taste so great in young wines.
As the tannins and acidity in a wine begin to soften and mellow out over time, there is also an evolution to the flavour profile and aromatics you’ll find in a wine that’s had time to age. In their youth, most wines showcase bright fresh fruit flavours. As wines age, these bright fresh flavours and aromas evolve and mellow out as well, to be replaced with often more spicy, savoury and mineral flavours and aromas.
Ultimately, the savoury aged flavours really strut their stuff alongside food, as opposed to the bright fresh fruity flavours that make younger wines so enjoyable to sip on their own, or with lighter fare. With this in mind, any wine collection should reflect a real emphasis on wines that pair well with the foods you enjoy most.
I’d recommend setting aside 2/3 of your budget for wines that pair naturally with your favourite foods, and reserve the balance of your budget for a little diversity – wines you might not drink every day, but allow you to spice things up for special dinners or for guests whose tastes might differ from yours.
You’ll see in the list below a wide range of prices and aging potential amongst each wine. There is generally a pretty close relationship between pricing and aging potential with wines like these, so if you’re buying wines near the bottom of the price range listed you can expect to cellar your wine for a period closer to the bottom end of the aging potential range, and vice versa for wines approaching the higher end of the price ranges.
Here’s my list of 10 benchmark wines that would form the basis of a delicious collection of wines to enjoy down the road:
#1. Bordeaux Reds
Origin: Bordeaux, France
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot (in varying proportions)
Price Range: $20 to $1000+ per bottle
Aging Potential: 5-50+ years
Wine Profile: Bordeaux Reds are the ultimate cellar selection – both by reputation and performance. Aged Bordeaux Reds take on lovely sweet spicy flavours and aromas like cedar, tobacco leaf and truffle. No wine region or style made anywhere in the world has the track record of producing wines that age quite like red Bordeaux. A perfect partner for fattier cuts of beef like NY striploin or ribeye.
#2. White Burgundy
Origin: Burgundy, France
Price Range: $20 to $500 per bottle
Aging Potential: 3-15+ years
Wine Profile: Perhaps my favourite wine to age. Yup – that’s right, my favourite aged wine is white. The amazing Chardonnays of Burgundy (like this one) become some of the most complex, interesting and delicious wines on the planet with time in the cellar. Expect flavours and aromas of cinnamon, clove, caramelized tropical fruit and much more. A perfect pairing with seafood, chicken or pork.
#3. Red Burgundy
Origin: Burgundy, France
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Price Range: $20 to $500 per bottle
Aging Potential: 5-25+ years
Wine Profile: These lighter to medium body reds may have a slightly shorter cellaring window than their counterparts from Bordeaux, but are every bit as special when fully mature. In aged Red Burgundy (here’s a perfect example) you can expect savoury smoky wet earth and barnyard flavours and aromas. Great with leaner cuts of beef, lamb or game.
#4. Rhone Reds
Origin: Rhone Valley, France
Grapes: Syrah (northern Rhone) – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and others (southern Rhone)
Price Range: $25 to $150 per bottle
Aging Potential: 5-30+ years
Wine Profile: Awesome bang for your buck as a cellar selection – particularly southern Rhone reds like Gigondas, Rasteau and Chateauneuf-du-Pape (here’s a personal favourite!). The evolution of flavours is somewhat reminiscent of a Red Burgundy – on steroids. Expect flavours and aromas of truffle, aged meat, hickory and wood smoke. A delicious pairing with lamb or flavourful game.
#5. Mosel Riesling
Origin: Mosel Valley, Germany
Price Range: $15-$100 per bottle
Aging Potential: 3-40+ years
Wine Profile: There is no wine made anywhere that will live as long for as small a price as a properly chosen Mosel Riesling. High natural acidity makes Riesling a perfect candidate for extended cellaring – and don’t be afraid of wines with a little sweetness. Even if you prefer drier white wines, sweetness disappears as wines age – leaving behind a lovely full richness. Aged Riesling makes most things in life better, but pairs especially well with spring salads, lighter seafood preparations and East Asian dishes (and you literally can’t go wrong if you buy anything from this line-up).
Origin: Piedmont, Italy
Price Range: $50 to $200 per bottle
Aging Potential: 8-30+ years
Wine Profile: The wine famous for making flavours and aromas of “tar and rose petals” key selling features, the Nebbiolo based reds of Piedmont highlight a fascinating and seemingly contradictory set of aromatic qualities – assertive earthy components and delicate floral elements in equal measure. The wait with Barolo is often a necessity as in their youth, these can be amongst the most structured and tannic wines made anywhere. When it’s ready to go, get yourself a fine piece of red meat and some truffles and you’ll find yourself in a very happy place (very happy if you’re fortunate enough to acquire something like this).
#7. Rioja Reds
Origin: Rioja, Spain
Grapes: Tempranillio, Garnacha, Mazuelo & Graciano
Price Range: $40 to $150 per bottle
Aging Potential: 6-25+ years
Wine Profile: If Mosel Riesling if the greatest cellar bargain amongst the whites on this list, then there is little doubt that when measured in aging potential per penny, Rioja is king of the reds. These wines are built to last. And last. And last. Often, the extended oak aging many Rioja reds receive can be a bit tough to palate when the wines are young, but with some extended cellar aging the results are pure magic; complex sundried fruit, tabacco leaf, cedar and exotic aromatic spices. I’ll sit down for a bottle of well-aged Rioja (especially if it’s made by this iconic producer) and lamb chops every day of the week.
#8. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon & Red Blends
Origin: Napa Valley, California
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Petit Verdot (in varying proportions)
Price Range: $30 to $300 per bottle
Aging Potential: 4-20+ years
Wine Profile: Increasingly, there seem to be more and more similarities between the great reds produced in the Napa Valley and the top reds of Bordeaux. As a general rule, the Napa reds still offer up a bit more ripeness and fruit than their French counterparts, so you can expect the typical aged Cabernet qualities you’ll find in Bordeaux reds, with a nice rich core of sundried red and black fruit when these wine mature. Drink it with pan seared duck breast – even better if it’s topped with a wicked fruit based pan sauce.
Origin: Champagne, France
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
Price Range: $70 to $300 per bottle
Aging Potential: 3-20+ years
Wine Profile: No serious wine collection is complete without at least a few bottles of Champagne. And while we generally think of Champagne as being a more expensive style of wine, when it comes to cellar potential, Champagne actually offers some pretty amazing value. The upper echelon of non-vintage Champagnes have the capacity to improve, but really what we’re looking at here are vintage Champagnes and prestige cuvees (and it really doesn’t get any more prestigious than this one). Treat yourself to a few really good bottles and pair them with a few really special occasions. When the time comes to pop the cork, you’ll be glad you did.
Origin: Bordeaux, France
Grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc & Muscadelle
Price Range: $40 to $400 per bottle
Aging Potential: 10-50+ years
Wine Profile: I know what you’re thinking – you don’t like sweet wines and you don’t drink dessert wines. Forget all that, because by the time a good bottle of Sauternes you buy today is ready to drink, you will have changed your mind! Much like the Mosel Rieslings discussed above, Sauternes loses some of its sweetness as it ages. Combine that with amped up flavours and aromas of citrus rind, tea, honey and the inexplicably magical evolution of botrytis aromatics, and the results can be extraordinary. Aged Sauternes will sing next desserts featuring peaches, nectarines and plums – but don’t stop there… you haven’t lived until you’ve indulged in the magic of a glass of aged Sauternes with goose or duck liver.