Sebastian Payne MW: What To Get Out Of Your Cellar In 2021

If you're feeling inspired to rummage in your cellar for bottles at their peak, Sebastian Payne MW offers some suggestions on what's really worth digging out.

Sebastian Payne MW: What To Get Out Of Your Cellar In 2021

This is the time of year when I like to drink the most recent vintages of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, often just arrived on our shores and Beaujolais-Villages. The many admirable good-value reds and whites that are coming out of Sicily, the south of France and South Africa at the moment are also best enjoyed young, when full of fresh fruit.

Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand
Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand

But for inveterate en primeur buyers like me, lockdowns at least gave an excuse to look at earlier vintages of classic wines which I had tucked away. Reds from fine vineyards and, indeed, certain whites, only develop their full potential with age.

Looking back at past vintages

So let's look at what you should be taking out of your cellar if you store wine, or finding at The Society if you don't, to drink and enjoy in 2021.


Rieslings, gewurztraminers and pinot gris from 2016 and 2015 are bottles you can drink now or keep for five years or more. The Society's Vin d'Alsace is one of our house whites for drinking now.


A hot tip here is Margaret River's 2018 vintage, the best for 40 years. Bold Barossa reds are good young and better old. Robert Oatley Chardonnay 2018 will be a good buy.

Sunset over a vineyard in the Barossa Valley
Sunset over a vineyard in the Barossa Valley


2019 is the vintage of the decade. Like Alsace, drink young or with five years' bottle age.


I am constantly delighted by the charm of 2012 clarets. 2009 was a glorious, ripe and seductive vintage. We still have stock of Château Peyrabon, an Haut-Médoc that we recommended for Christmas drinking and the Saint-Julien Hortevie, the latter from Ducru-Beaucaillou's stable. 2010, like 2005, was a great year that needed ageing (the longer the better), but Château Batailley is good now, though still improving. For those of us lucky to have older bottles, the 2000 vintage classed growths needed 20 years to show their paces; and 1996 after a slow start is now just right. Anyone with 40th birthdays or anniversaries this year might want to tuck away bottles of the 1981 Château Fonbadet, which my colleague Tim Sykes describes as 'a fine example of a mature claret from a different age.'


White Burgundy from the Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise are wines that you can enjoy when first listed but Côte d'Or chardonnays benefit from a little ageing. The super 2014s needed this, but 2015, 2016 and 2017 are ready to go. The Society's Chablis 2019 is delicious now but top premiers crus and grands crus will be better in four years. As for red Burgundy, lesser 2017s are lovely now, as are some 2016s. Village and premiers crus from 2010, 2011 and 2012 are drinking well now.

Vineyards in Burgundy
Vineyards in Burgundy


The Society has an intriguing selection of individual Grower Champagnes worth getting to know, but for me The Society's Champagne nails it every time. I buy it when it's on offer if possible and mean to keep it for several months as it ages splendidly, but my stocks always run out over Christmas. Vintage Champagnes are by their very nature a bit special and of those we have currently in stock, 2008 is a stand out.


English growers were rewarded with an excellent and plentiful harvest in 2020 and many are talking of it being the best vintage ever. It is looking exciting particularly for the still wines which perhaps still don't get the recognition they so deserve. Look out for the new vintage coming on stream early this year.

Three Choirs Vineyard, Gloucestershire the home of The Society's English Wine
Three Choirs Vineyard, Gloucestershire the home of The Society's English Wine


2015 was a cracking vintage for riesling but stocks are now low. 2016s are lighter but refreshing and fine. My brother and I rejoice that we squirrelled away older vintages, often glorious after 30 years or more if from top estates.


Your prolific purchases of Italian wines from us during this last year show that there is no need to mention the great value, individuality and quality that can be found all over Italy. In Piedmont, whose reds need ageing, Langhe nebbiolos and Barberas are currently great buys. In Tuscany, the warm 2017 vintage produced generous and attractive Chianti Classicos.

Harvest lunch with Luca de Marchi at the family's revitalised vineyards in Piedmont
Harvest lunch with Luca de Marchi at the family's revitalised vineyards in Piedmont


It feels as if one cannot go wrong here recently after a string of good years. I buy mixed cases of Côtes-du-Rhône Villages en primeur, meaning to keep them but always find I use them up soon after they are delivered. But good Rhône from Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape certainly benefits from ageing. We love Gigondas too, with 7 to 10 years of age. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Piedlong from Brunier will be very good as is the splendid Exhibition Hermitage 2011. Saint-Joseph is an appellation that provides real quality and value and is a name to watch. Saint-Joseph Villard 2013 might be a good place to start.


Is a country that offers great value from unexpected sources and The Society's List gives you a choice to explore them. Wood-aged Rioja from the soft tempranillo grape is ready to drink on release and particularly outstanding for reds across Spain, but especially in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, is the 2010 vintage. Look out for the traditional-style Bóhorquez Reserva Ribera del Duero 2010, now fully mature and the classic Dominum QP Reserva Rioja 2010.

… and finally


Finally, magnums: I sincerely hope there will be cause to celebrate in 2021 with friends, family, maybe neighbours, if only the events put off and rescheduled from last year. In our family, that means magnums whose presence on the table adds joy to all. I am tempted by Vacqueyras Blanc 2019; Château de la Commanderie, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2015; and Muga Reserva Rioja 2010.

Of course, when it comes to ageing wine, size does matter too with the larger format bottles offering a more gentle maturation than standard sizes.

Browse our range of bigger bottles

Sebastian Payne MW

Society Buyer

Sebastian Payne MW

Sebastian, our longest serving wine buyer, joined The Wine Society in 1973. He served as Chief Wine Buyer from 1985–2012.

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