The Annual “Cellar Beware” Blog (aka the ‘white Hermitage’ debacle)

Someone asked me the other day what wines to buy for a wine cellar, and that reminded me it was time for my annual blog on this topic, with some specific advice on pitfalls to avoid! It’s also called the white Hermitage debacle, for reasons which will shortly become clear…

So, first rule of cellaring wine? Only buy wines which actually will develop and or improve in the cellar. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, not really.

For one thing, over 90% of wines are meant for almost immediate consumption (that number is greater than 95% for white wines). Six to nine months won’t hurt them (much), but they probably won’t develop or get any better. Best candidates for dry red wines can be Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone wines from France; Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino from Italy. Rioja from Spain, old vine Shiraz from Aus, and California Cabernet Sauvignon. For dry whites, look to Alsace and Germany (although these can get sweet quickly!).

Next it is important to understand what the cellaring does to wine…and whether you will like it or not!

For reds, the harsh tannins will soften, but the ripe fruit will also stay to fade away, leaving you with a softer but more woody/herbal/earthy wine. For whites, the fruit will also slowly leave, being replaced with similar flavours as above, in particular oak (if the wine was aged in barrels).

So that’s a good thing, right? Well, not necessarily!

Wine is made from grapes, obviously, and the first attraction for most people (including me) is to ripe fruit aromas and flavours like currants, cherries, plums, blackberries and citrus. When those fade away – particularly if they are replaced by oak and cedar — the taste is strikingly different, and not necessarily to everyone’s tastes (including mine). This can be even more dramatic if there wasn’t a lot of fruit flavour to begin with (like in many Bordeaux).

So what to do? Well, the best thing is to try a wine young and the same kind of wine when it is older. The latter can be hard to find sometimes, but if you search for it — or look for a tasting of older wines — you can usually find something.

It can also be expensive, as older bottles increase in value/cost (as are tastings of them). But a little more money up front can save you a lot later on.

And that’s where the white Hermitage debacle comes in!

Red Hermitage — from the northern Cotes du Rhone — is made from Syrah, and early on I found I loved Syrah, both young and old. So when I was putting my cellar together, I looked at Hermitage (well, actually Crozes-Hermitage, which is more affordable). But then I saw the white versions. Some of them were getting great reviews, which also said they could age for decades (a rarity for white wines). So I bought a few over a number of vintages — without trying them young or old — and waited for them to age.

Which is when disaster struck!

Have you ever tasted Retsina, from Greece? With that resin smell and taste? Well, white Hermitage has it! I hoped it would go away with age, but it didn’t. So I am stuck with the remaining bottles (fortunately only three left).

But lesson learned since then! It has caused me to be more careful, and resulted in me not making large investments in a couple of wines (most notably, a number from Spain).

So heed my warning…and don’t make the same mistake that I did! Spend a little time and money now, to avoid your own wine cellar debacle in the future!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

PS For those interested in BC wines and/or travelling to BC wine country, I have just released for sale the first edition of “SB’s Guide to BC Wines”. It covers all of BC’s wine regions, with recommendations on what wineries to visit (and how to get there), what to taste and buy, tasting notes from my favourite wines (some of which go back 10 years) and even restaurants and wine stores where you can find some of these wines. All for $9.98 (including tax). Just got to my website (www.sbwinesite.com) and click on the SB Wine Guide button. You can pay via PayPal and I will send you a pdf copy, which you can either print off or keep on your smart phone.

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