Most of the requests we get concern claret – not surprising given that this region is still the one most frequently bought from in our en primeur (in bond) offers. There are more cases of Bordeaux wines in Members’ Reserves and home cellars, we reckon, 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, wines such as the deservedly popular Haut-Médoc Château Beaumont, will be lovely after three or four years and its best vintages keep well for 10 years plus. The same can be said for the following wines, also from the Médoc; Château Peyrabon, Château Charmail, Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Château Sénéjac, Château Lanessan and Château Malescasse.
Vintages that are drinking well at this level include 2016 (just starting), 2015, 2014 and, if you’re still lucky enough to have some in your cellar or in storage, 2010 and 2009.
Merlot-dominated wines from Saint-Emilion and its satellites (right bank) tend to mature earlier than cabernet-dominated Médocs (left bank), 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. Hold onto the best 2016 and 2015 wines longer. This is where in-between vintages like 2012 and 2007 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. Less widely heralded vintages, such as 2001, which was overshadowed by the millennial vintage, is preferable to us in many instances. And 2004 is another vintage that was unfairly criticised by some wine writers, but which produced some lovely, classic wines that are drinking well now. 2012, 2011, and fuller-bodied 2009s are generally 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.
It is a question of taste when to drink red Burgundy. Early, on its lovely perfumed fruit, or wait until those mellow earthier aromas and secondary flavours emerge. The rich 2019 vintage can be enjoyed now at Bourgogne level. 2020 and 2018 need keeping though. 2017 never went into its shell (as Burgundy often does) and is medium-bodied and harmoniously balanced and attractive now. Best to wait for premiers crus from 2016, a lovely complex year not yet ready. 2015 is a great year worth keeping back too. The fine and fresh 2010 and richer 2012s are mostly ready at village and premier cru level, while lighter years like 2013 and 2014 are mostly ready now.
White Burgundies are maturing earlier partly because warmer vintages mean riper grapes with lower preserving fruit acidity. In general, 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. As a general rule, most white Burgundy from the 2018 vintage and older, can be enjoyed now.
The succession of great vintages in this part of France just seems to run and run, with plenty of options for members to tuck away for future enjoyment. But taking a look at older vintages, 2019 was a dramatic vintage producing some ‘monster’ wines and many are starting to close down at the moment. 2018s are soft and plump and drinking gorgeously. 2017 was a more complicated and stressful vintage with drought affecting many. Concentrated and structured, with tannins that needed time to soften and with northern-Rhône syrah in particular performing brilliantly, the wines are now starting to come round. 2016 was relatively cool making wines with bright fruit flavours and charm and perfect balance and drinking beautifully now. 2015s all need more time, while the soft, elegant 2014s are all perfect to drink now. 2013s are still a little austere and could do with more time. 2012, 2011 and 2009 are all drinking nicely and while some of the great 2010 vintage are becoming approachable, we would still leave alone a while longer.
Top older vintages of Rioja which may be kept longer or drunk with pleasure are 2001 and 2005. 2009, 2015 and 2019 are in this league and will benefit from ageing too. Newly released 2016 gran reservas and reserva-level Riojas are now starting to hit their stride. There is no point in hoarding wines from 2013, 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. 2018 Barolos low in tannin and ‘Burgundian’ in style are full of charm and won’t need so long to come around.
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 is still improving at the top level while 2016 are now just starting to come into their drinking window. 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.
Vintage & Late Bottled Vintage Port
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 leveland are ready to drink, though the widely declared 1980 was a fine vintage whose status vies with 1985 for favourite of the decade. Fully mature but will hold its plateau of maturity if well stored. 1994s, and 1991s are very good, as are 2003s and about ready now as are the many more recent single-Quinta years. 2017 and 2016s, including top, unfiltered LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) Ports still need time. Filtered LBV Ports are ready to go on release and though they will keep a short time, they are not designed for keeping.
A few 2015 vintage wines were declared but this was more of a single Quinta vintage, for which it’s still a little early, but in a half bottle the generosity of the vintage makes it ready to go. The same was true for 2010 and some single Quinta vintage Ports are already accessible, in bottles as well as halves. Enjoy the concentrated single Quinta 2009s now but keep any declared Ports from this rich, generous year for now. 2008 – overshadowed by the widely declared 2007 vintage and 2009 which followed, produced classic, deeply coloured wines; single Quinta wines are ready to go.
Ripe 2020 wines are already making enjoyable drinking at the more modest end of the quality spectrum, while 2019s with good acidity and a natural purity offer good keeping potential. The top wines still need time; mid-level wines are already drinking well, as are some of the more forward grands crus. The plentiful 2018 vintage was approachable from early on. Most of the top wines of 2017 should be kept but some from this elegant vintage, which displayed power balanced by freshness, are already delicious.
2016 needed a little time to show its best at the top level; fresh acidity and natural purity characterise this vintage; top wines will keep but many are drinking beautifully now. Ten years on, 2013 was a particularly good year for pinot gris and gewurztraminer. 2012 at more than a decade on has come into its own, having been overshadowed by the great 2010. Riper, more generous and hedonistic than the latter, with less marked acidity, the top wines nevertheless offer freshness as well as concentration and will continue to cellar well.
Some of the best value dry riesling in the world doubtless comes from Austria, a country which hasn’t exported its best wines in recent years and therefore often flies under the radar on the global wine scene. The cool climate here provides vibrant freshness to the wines, and it is this which sets them up so well for ageing. The key stylistic difference between Austrian riesling and those far better known from Germany, is that the Austrian examples are almost entirely dry and when originating from regions like Kamptal have a characteristic orange-blossom aroma, which contributes to the lift and complexity.
A little like white Rhône, these wines can ‘cocoon’ and close down for a few years while they develop into their mature selves; best drunk either within the first couple of years after vintage when they are vibrant and youthful, or around six or seven years from vintage, when they have comfortably grown into themselves, exhibiting more complexity, generosity and a delicious combination of maturity and energy.
Top 2016 rieslings, such as those from Bründlmayer, the country’s most highly regarded winery, have really hit their stride recently and are perfect to drink in 2023.
Greece & England
The concept of cellaring wines from these up-and-coming countries is still novel but buyer Matthew Horsley highly recommends putting some of the top bottles aside and watching them develop. Naoussa in Greece was outstanding in 2019 and star producer Apostolos Thymiopoulos’ wines drinking well now but will develop further too. 2017 was also a very good year with the wines drinking well but capable of cellaring further. 2018 and 2016 should be drunk.
2018 and 2020 still chardonnay and pinot noir from England are showing well and 2014 vintage sparkling wines are brilliant.