Serious Eats: Drinks
We Ask Christy Frank: Which Wines Age Well?
Over on Talk, we've been getting a lot of questions about which wines age well. So we called up a few wine-expert friends to get their take. Christy Frank is the owner of Frankly Wines, a tiny (but well-curated!) wine shop in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City. We asked her for tips on wines to buy now for drinking in 5, 10, or 15 years.
What makes a wine age well? What kinds of wines DON'T age well?
To oversimplify, wines with high tannins or acidity are most likely to age well. The vast majority of wines on most shelves aren't meant for aging... and that's OK because most people are drinking their wines within hours of purchase.
What happens to wines that don't have high acid or tannin? What do they taste like after a decade?
A wine that doesn't have the bones to age will just taste...old. There's no vibrancy, no sense of life remaining in the bottle—just muddy, musty liquid.
Contrast that with a wine that does age well: The fruit fades but it doesn't completely disappear—it's still there, even if it's just whispering. Edges soften, and layers of earthy complexity develop, with all these elements weaving themselves together until you can't pick them apart. You can taste the wine's history, its age, the passage of time—but it's still very much alive. It's magic—but try to describe it and you can sound a bit loony.
Serious Eaters want to know: Which wines should I buy to put away 10 years? What about 20 years?
The easy answer is top producers from Barolo, Burgundy, and Bordeaux in good vintages. This is also the expensive answer.
On a budget, I go for wines from regions that are overlooked by the big collectors. Muscadet from top growers can easily age for 10 to 20 years, and you have to try hard to spend more than $25/bottle. We're currently selling Luneau Papin Le L d'Or Muscadet 1997 for $25, which is rather ridiculous given the age and quality.
I'm also a big fan of Chateau Musar from Lebanon. Both the reds and the whites can age seemingly forever. I've had vintages from the 50s that were still stunning. It's not a wine for everyone, but for those who love it, "current" vintages such as 2003, 2001, and 1999 can be found for $45 to $60 and will easily age for another 20 years or more.
Other wines to consider for budget cellar building: German Rieslings, Savennieres and Chinon from the Loire, whites from the Jura, reds from the Alto Piemonte, Bandol, Cru Beaujolais, Assyrtiko and Xinomacro from Greece, and if you can find it, Hunter Valley Semillon. And I haven't even mentioned truly sweet or fortified wines.
How would you recommend shopping for wines to put away?
Shopping for wines that you're going to drink in 5, 10, or 15 years can be a tricky thing. It's not just about how well a given wine may evolve over that time—it's about whether it's going to be something you'll still want to drink. Chances are very good that if you're just getting serious about wine, you're going to be drinking a lot of it over the next 5, 10, or 15 years. And your tastes are going to change.
I've seen it happen many, many times—you start out loving big, fruit-driven, seductively oaked wines and think about putting some of them away. But when the time comes to drink them, you've moved on to other wines and are wishing you had put those away instead. (And those are very often the wines on my budget cellar list, above.)
No matter where you are in your drinking journey, my advice is to work with your favorite shop to come up with a selection that fits your budget. You should certainly put away bottles that nod toward what you're currently drinking, but take a few chances on regions that always seem to end up on those "I wish I'd bought then what I like now" lists. Your future self will thank you.
Any safe-storage tips?
For long-term storage, you want to keep your wine in a place that's consistently cool. In NYC, where most of us don't have basements, finding that consistently cool place can be issue. I find myself recommending temperature controlled wine storage facilities or investing in an at-home wine cooler (generally in a bigger size than you initial think you'll need.) Which option makes more sense will depend on the size of your collection—and your apartment.
How do you know when to drink a wine you're aging? What happens if you wait too long?
There's no magical "drink-by date" for wine. So if you can manage, it's best to buy 2 or 3 bottles of the wines you're planning to put away. I think it takes the pressure off determining the "perfect" date to pull the cork. You can open a bottle, check in on it, and decide when to drink the rest. If the primary fruit is still fresh, lively, and...primary, it's probably safe to forget about the remaining bottles for a while. If it seems like the wine is at or near that magical place where the fruit and earth and age are all in balance, than you can speed up your timetable. This way, if you wait too long to drink that last bottle, it won't be so frustrating because you'll have the memories of prior sips that were in a better place. And I think that's the wonderful thing about laying down wine—you can taste how it evolves over its (and your own) life.
So, what's in your cellar? What wines do you have that you're saving until they're more mature?
I have some Cru Beaujolais that I'm trying desperately to forget about for a few years, a number of German Rieslings, a couple bottles of Hunter Valley Semillon, Chateau Musar red and whites, many single bottles of various Jura whites (breaking my rule above, and already regretting it.) I'm planning to add a some Greek wines, Nebbiolos and Bandol soon, I just need to make some room!