Sunday, April 27, 2014

Old Wines for Young Sommeliers

From the “what would I put away?” dept.

There’s some chatter lately about the young and the old in the wine world. Not having totally destroyed all my memory cells from earlier days, I’d like to share some thoughts about which wines I would buy if I were 30 years younger. Keep in mind; 30 years ago I started to put away wine. Those wines are now like tattoos to me. Some of them have become great friends; some of them I wonder just how they got there. The good news about a poorly chosen wine for collecting, you don’t have to wear it on your chest for the rest of your life. You pop the cork and send it on its way.

For purposes of keeping the theme Italian, I will focus on red wines from Italy. I did manage to sock away wines from California, France, Germany, Australia, Portugal, Texas, Austria, Spain, South Africa, New Mexico, Arkansas and New York. Like I said, some of those tattoos; what were we thinking?

If you are 30, the biggest problem is having the money needed to set aside wines for 20-30 years. If you are 60, while one might have the needed funds, time is not on your side. To buy a case of Barolo or Brunello that could easily go 30 years isn’t really practical. That is a basic dilemma.

Another predicament is that when one is 30, one might not have the room to store wines. One tends to move around more when not quite settled in. So there is money and there is the mobility aspect.

But let’s assume the stars align up and makes saving wine possible. What would Italian Wine Guy do (WWIWGD)?

Sicily - I would buy as much red wine from Etna that I could (actually, I am doing this as well).These wines are still pretty affordable. And from what I can gather, they will age.Some Nero d'Avola as well, like the ones from Tasca d'Almerita, La Lumia and Gulfi.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo -These wines from the 1970’s and 1980 have aged really well. I recently opened a 1985 Illuminati Zanna Riserva alongside a 1985 La Chapelle Hermitage. The Montepulciano cost me about $15, the Hermitage about $50. Identical storing conditions for 25+ years. The Montepulciano was the star of the show. Not that the Hermitage was a slouch (although the 1985 did have bottle variations over the years). Point being, get in on some of the good producers who can take the long road.

Aglianico – from Campania and Basilicata. Again I didn’t buy enough of these wines. Now they age well and are still reasonably priced – put some of these in there and let them rest.

Calabria- I have collected some older ones because of my heritage. If you can seek out some solid producers, fine. But this is pretty marginal for most people.

Primitivo from Apulia – I have bottles going back to 1973 in the closet. Savese in Manduria (Sava) was doing wine in qveri and amphora in the 1990’s (and maybe earlier). Lovers of volatile acidity (of which I am one) should seek these wines out. They age beautifully.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – one of my epiphany wines. I have not stored enough of these in my life, probably too busy drinking them. But when I taste an older one, I ask myself why I didn’t put more of these away? Still pretty good values. The 2009’s I have had have been lovely. The 2010’s look enticing as well, even though the critics don’t give them as long of a ride in the cellar. Good news for the older collectors. I’d still buy them if I were 30. Well stored, they can survive a longer trip.

Chianti Classico – one of my regrets is that I did not put away more of this wine. The great Chianti Classico estates offer fabulous values and wines that can not only age well but wines that one can drink over a period of 20 or so years. Currently I am socking away 2009’s and 2010’s. I also have a love for the other zones not in Classico, Rufina, Montespertoli, Colli Senesi among them. They make great values and age nicely.

Brunello – I admit I probably have more Brunello in my wine closet than I should have. Good thing, for I often forget what is in there. And then 20 years pass. Bad for me, but good for the wine. If you can afford it, put some in. If you cannot, go with the Chianti Classico or the Vino Nobile.

Super Tuscans – there are still a few stragglers in there, but for the most part I drink these wines pretty young. When I did collect wines like Sassicaia (going back to 1979) I eventually sold them all after I had tasted them enough. Nothing against them, but they aren’t part of my strategy to tell young people to collect these wines. You might be better off buying grapes and making 10 cases of wine yourself. You’d learn a lot more. I did that too, once upon a time.

Birth-year wine - Yes, get some, as soon as possible. Or better, get your parents to buy it for you when you are younger. Their money, your pleasure. Hopefully, your birth year won't suck (unlike some of us).

Veneto – I do have some Amarone in my closet, but I am the wrong person to ask. I’d love to be able to afford Quintarelli, but I really cannot go there. Walter Speller or Elisabetta Tosi or Giampiero Nadali would know more about which of these wines to sock away.

Piedmont – Nebbiolo. For me Barbaresco is the unsung hero of the Langhe. You will find more Barbaresco in my closet than any other wine. I know the wines can age and they soften up and mellow out and speak to my sensibilities about wine. Produttori del Barbaresco is the first stop. But if you can afford Marchesi di Gresy, buy as much as you can.

Barolo is my black hole. I buy them, I enjoy them, but I never seem to buy right. Well, not exactly. But right now, the 2010’s are getting scarfed up and the prices are rising. And that indicates most likely that the cycle of pricing for Barolo will stay up. Barolo is such an individual preference. I suggest you go to a tasting of many producers when you can, find the style you like and go for it. I find I like a range from very traditional wines to some modern styles. I just don’t want to spend $70 for a wine that I am not sure what I will be getting in 30 years. That’s why I go back to Barbaresco.

Gattinara, Spanna, Boca, Ghemme, Sizzano, Valtellina, Sfursat etc. – again if you have an individual penchant for these wines and get to know them these can be great. I just bought a slug of them from the Rosenthal importer. Look into this – great wines and great values. Also the Le Piane Boca and the Vallana Spanna are good solid choices, as is the Carema from Ferrando. The Sfursat tradizionale from Nino Negri is a keeper and at ½ of the 5 Stelle, a steal.

There are more but this is getting too wordy. For now this will get you in the ballpark. Hey, if it’s a simple as budgeting $100 a month for wines to put away, I believe it will be money well spent. Yes, the wine culture is getting more mature, and if you are one of the young ones, now is a good time to think about that day when you won’t be. Hard to do, I know. But if you have the patience and the budget, these are wines that will welcome you into your older years. How many tattoos will be able to do that for you in 30 years?

Want to read more about collecting?
Italian Wine in 2014 - Personal Strategies for Collecting - Part I
Italian Wine in 2014 - Personal Strategies for Collecting - Part II

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