Frequently the request concerns claret. There are more cases of that in Members’ Reserves and home cellars too I suspect, than of any other type of wine, probably because it benefits most from ageing.
Bordeaux is big. There are thousands of properties at different levels of quality and price, and there has been a remarkable improvement recently in the quality of so-called ‘petits châteaux’ wines that can be good to drink two to three years after the vintage, though several that make our en primeur selections will last a decade to advantage. At the next level, say the deservedly popular Haut-Médoc Château Beaumont, the wine will be lovely after three or four years and its best vintages keep well for 10 years plus.
Merlot-dominated wines from Saint-Emilion and its satellites tend to mature earlier than cabernet-dominated Médocs, but here vintage differences play an important part. Great vintages, which wine buffs rate highest, because they will reveal claret in its wonderful complexity, require the most patience. 2010 Médocs are just reaching their best; 2005 clarets had such intense ripe fruit combined with tannin and acidity that top wines really need longer still. 2000 classed-growth clarets still taste youthful. Hold onto the best 2016 and 2015 wines longer. This is where in-between vintages come in useful. Because they tend to be less concentrated and less tannic, they require less patience. Many people who don’t care about vintage charts prefer such years.
2003 which was so hot that some of the finer aromas were burnt away produced some rich, sweet-tasting wines which are usually enjoyable if not classic Bordeaux. Claret , with the help of global warming, has been made more accessible earlier. Better vineyard management and weather forecasting have also helped pick and sort riper grapes later. I drank an excellent 1975 Cissac this year, not a day too old after 46 years in a cool cellar, but that was a tough vintage for decades. 2012, 2011, and fuller-bodied 2009s are good to drink now.
2014 classed-growth level clarets are hitting their stride. 2008s and older vintages are all ready, though top 1998s (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Pessac-Léognan), 1996 (Médoc) and 1995 should have bags of life still. Don’t hoard the famous 1990s or 1982s any longer, but 1989s and 1986 Médocs will outlive them.
Sauterne wines, which my colleague Toby Morrhall regards as the greatest wine in the world, is extraordinarily long-living, like Tokaji and Madeira wines. Wonderful when young, it can last over 100 years as a bottle of 1899 Yquem recently proved.
It is a question of taste when to drink red Burgundy wine. Early, on its lovely perfumed fruit, or wait until those mellow earthier aromas and secondary flavours emerge. Best to wait for premiers crus from 2016, and top wines from 2013 and 2010. 2018 seems to be a vintage good young, middle-aged or old. I don’t have enough of it. Lesser 2015s are attractive now. 2017, 2014, 2012 and 2010 are good to go.
White Burgundy wines are maturing earlier partly because warmer vintages mean riper grapes with lower preserving fruit acidity. Premiers crus from Chablis or the Côte d’Or deserve a wait of four to five years, grands crus six to seven years or much longer. 2014 and 2017 wines needed longer than hot years like 2015 and 2019. The many lovely wines at keener prices from the Mâconnais and Chalonnaise may be enjoyed young.
Like many of you, I am buying more Rhône wines en primeur, though I often lack the patience not to open them too early. Marcel Orford-Williams tells me that 2011 and 2012, if you still have them, are lovely to drink now from all appellations with ripe fruit and soft tannins. 2019 made monster wines beginning to close down. Legendary but don’t touch. 2018s have super fruit, less ambitious flavours and are good to drink. 2017s, a drought vintage, are still tight. Elegant 2016s are just starting to be good. 2015s, like 2010, are still best left alone in 2022. 2014 was somewhat lighter and good now. 2013, a late vintage and tiny crop, can be still austere so needs food or longer keeping.
Top older vintages for Rioja wines which may be kept longer or drunk with pleasure are 2001, 2004 and 2005. 2010 and 2019 are in this league and will benefit from aging too. There is no point in hoarding wines from 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2003 2002 or 2000. This is not to say that these vintages won’t be enjoyable, just that barrel ageing and relatively low acidity means they can all be drunk with uncomplicated pleasure this year.
Barolo and Barbaresco
The great nebbiolo wines share some characteristics with the great pinot noir wines of Burgundy. They are mostly made in relatively small quantity by grower-winemakers and adjacent vineyards often taste remarkably different according to soil, exposure and winemaker. But nebbiolo, though equally naturally light in colour, has firmer tannin than pinot noir which can be a shock to those who don’t expect it. It has to be balanced by ripe fruit.
But in the finest years with most complexity, 2016, 2013, 2010, the wines require patience, like 2006 and 2001 before them. 2019 is particularly good in Barbaresco. Keep those years back if you can. The previously atypically warm vintages, 2017, 2015, and 2011 are or will be ready to drink, as are the more elegant but fine years 2014, 2012 and 2008. I was delighted to find the soon-to-be-released 2018 Barolos low in tannin and ‘Burgundian’ in style. The best are quite charming and older members like me won’t have to wait.
You are spoilt for choice here after a run of good years since 2015. 2019 is one of those classic balanced years – good young, middle-aged and old. 2018 and 2016 are still improving at the top level. 2017 was a hot year now ready. 2015 ripe and full and good to go or keep. Some 2001s, and 2009s are still well worth keeping. Other years to be drunk up.
It used to be said that good Vintage Port should be kept for a minimum of 15 years and preferably longer. Anyone lucky enough to have Wine Society-bottled 1963, 1966, or 1970 Vintage Ports will know they are still beautiful. Subsequent vintages 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1985 were more mixed and not quite at that level and all are ready to drink. 1994s, and 1991s are very good, as are 2003s and about ready now as are the many more recent single-Quinta years.
I have confined myself to wines that most benefit from cellaring. The great reds from USA, Australia, South Africa, and South America are, with a few notable exceptions like Grange and Montebello, good to drink young as well as old. Joanna Locke MW strongly recommends 2015 and 2017 South African red wines. Sarah Knowles speaks up for 2018 and 2019 in California. From his patch, Freddy Bulmer says watch out for 2018 Austrian white wines and in Australia, 2018 Torbreck, but of course there’s no hurry with that one!