New Year, Old Wine

My sister recently said to me, "I actually don't know which wine is your favorite." While I certainly have favorites just like anyone else, I drink a wide range of wines grown in many regions and made from a cornucopia of grapes. (To date, I've tried 136 varieties!) That's part of the fun of wine for me—the diversity of grapes and sites. I guess it makes sense that my favorites aren't obvious.

But this post isn't about my favorites, although I'm happy to share those in a separate post, too. Rather, it's about one of the facets of wine that I haven't explored as thoroughly: collecting aged wine (10+ years). Aged wine is one of the most important topics in wine, and yet I don't think I've mentioned it on this blog until now.

Why have I avoided discussing aged wine? I haven't felt confident in my own knowledge and experience. Due to price and access, older wines are intimidating! I still don't have all the answers on sourcing aged wine yet, but I'm starting to figure it out. I could have put off writing this blog post until I was able to write a comprehensive guide, but I decided to write it now so we can begin our collections together. Below you'll find my notes on collecting older wines, plus educational resources on what to look for and when to open.

In this new year, let's discover old wines!

My small but growing collection

Online retailers

Benchmark Wine Group

Have you ever tried a birth year wine? As an 80s baby, I know the struggle! I've found a few though, mostly through Benchmark Wine Group, a site specializing in old and rare wines. The most helpful feature on their site is the ability to search by vintage. If you're approaching your 30th birthday and would like a bottle from 1991, you can click right into the 90s decade and check out the selection. From what I've seen, availability depends on the quality of the vintage and region. I recommend being flexible if your main priority is a specific year. For example, I love French wine, but Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was much better in 1987. Napa Cab it is!

Birth year wines: Robert Mondavi 1987 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($89), Beringer Vineyards 1987 Napa Valley Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($149), Niebaum Coppola 1987 Rubicon Blend ($125), Beaulieu Vineyards 1987 George de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($108)

Others I've purchased: Clos Cancailloü 1995 Jurançon Gourmandise ($45), Zind Humbrecht 1994 Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim ($39), Moulin Haut Laroque 2005 Fronsac ($35)

WineBid

I haven't purchased anything from this site yet, but I know several wine collectors who have had positive experiences. As the name implies, this site has a bidding feature that allows you to enter the maximum you're willing to pay for a wine.

Like Benchmark, you can search by vintage. You can also drill into specific sub-regions more easily than most wine retail sites. For example, when you click into Bordeaux, you can select from its sub-regions like Margaux, Pauillac, and Pomerol. This is a feature that is lacking on Benchmark. If you're a big fan of a particular appellation, WineBid is probably the best route for you!

Bottle I just bid on: Vieux Chateau Saint André 2005 Montagne-Saint-Emilion ($30 bid)

Other bottles I'm eyeing: Joh. Jos. Prüm 2001 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese ($86 minimum bid), E. Pira e Figli 2005 Barolo Cannubi ($60 minimum bid)

Wine shops

Regular wine shops can also be a great source of aged wines! If you live in a state with private retailers, I imagine that you can build a relationship with your local shop and in turn they can help you source specific wines. However, since I live in Pennsylvania (a control state), I rely on wine shops' online selections. Fortunately, there are a few excellent shops that sell older vintages through their virtual storefronts. 

Among them, I recommend Astor Wines and Chambers Street Wines. Both regularly carry older wines—and they ship to Pennsylvania. While I order a lot of wine from Astor, I haven't ordered any older wines from them yet. From Chambers Street, I have a 1987 Nervi Gattinara ($65).

Interesting bottles on Chambers Street: Barbeito 1996 Madeira Ribeiro Real Tinta Negra ($150), Mastroberardino 1978 Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso ($100)

And on Astor's site: Fèlsina 1995 Chianti Classico Riserva ($100), Domaine du Closel 2002 Clos Papillon Savennières ($90)

Other avenues

Wineries

This route can be hit or miss but it's worth mentioning because most wineries maintain a library of back-vintage wines. Sometimes these wines aren't available for sale, and other times they are released on a limited basis. If you're interested in exploring this option, joining your favorite winery's wine club is the surest way to learn about exclusive releases. For example, I'm a club member at Lamoreaux Landing, a winery in the Finger Lakes with a library program.

Curated wine clubs

In contrast to winery-run wine clubs, there are wine curators who hand select wines from boutique wineries, oftentimes focused on a niche region, style, or philosophy. Curators build strong relationships within their network in order to gain access to unique wines for their members. They might include a back-vintage wine in their regular shipment, or help members find specific wishlist items. In a recent Barolo Wine Club shipment, curators Anna and Claudio included a Scarpa 2009 La Bogliona Barbera—such a treat!

Importers

In the United States, wine importers rarely sell directly to consumers due to the complexities of our three-tier system of alcohol distribution. However, there are a few that brave this path. To dive into this side of wine, I highly recommend signing up for the Fass Selections email releases. Since first subscribing a few years ago, I've purchased many intriguing and special bottles, including Chateau Bel Air-Marquis D'Aligre 1998 Margaux ($72), Podere Ai Valloni 1997 Vigna Cristina Boca ($42), and Hermann Ludes 1994 Thörnicher Ritsch Spätlese ($32).

Educational resources

Best for understanding the aging process: 
"What Really Happens as Wine Ages?" Wine Enthusiast

Best for selecting wines to age: 
"Built to Last: Collecting Age-Worthy Wine" Wine Folly

Best for a quick overview:
"Guide to Aging Wine" VinePair

Best for figuring out when to open:
"When to Open a Bottle: Aging Wine Without the Anxiety" The New York Times

Best for vintage information:
Vintage Charts Wine Spectator

Next: Do's and Don'ts of Temperature and Storage