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Cellaring wine - How to Select Wines to Cellar

by Toni Paterson

Cellaring wines is an inexact science and there are no hard fast rules to determine which wines will age well. However this lack of predictability is one of the reasons why it is such an enjoyable pursuit. Such a thrill is gained from opening an aged, prized bottle to find that it is sublime. It is what good wine is all about.

Conversely, there is nothing more shattering than discovering that your special bottle you have been treasuring all these years is undrinkable. So how can this be avoided? Thankfully there are some broad guidelines one can follow to help reduce the incidence of disappointment.

The first thing to keep in mind is that not all wines improve with age - and price is not always an indicator of a wines ageing potential. Most wines in today's market place are made to drink immediately. They lack the intensity and structure required for aging. Set a price limit per bottle that you wish to spend and research wines under this limit.

Secondly, ask yourself what styles of wines you like to drink? This may seem like an obvious question but if you like fresh, citrusy white wines, you may not enjoy the honeyed characters of an older white. If you like chewy, fruit-filled red wines, perhaps the savoury character of an aged red is not to your taste. Wines change significantly with age and you need to ensure that they evolve into something that suits your palate.

Once you have established a price limit and a style, it is time to think about wine selection. For whites, select young, balanced wines with intense flavours and prominent acidity. My favourites are Eden Valley Riesling, Hunter Semillon and cool climate Chardonnay. Riesling can live for an extended time, transforming into wines with toast and honey characters. Aged Hunter Semillon is a delicious wine, with wonderful nutty complexity. Chardonnay becomes toasty, nutty and honeyed with age.

There are many styles of red that age well. Though if you are a novice at cellaring wine, I would not recommend choosing Pinot Noir as its ageing potential is variable. I would stick to Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, as well as blends containing these varieties. Look for young wines with intense flavours, firm tannins, prominent acidity and vibrant, intense colours. My favourites are Coonawarra and Margaret Cabernet Sauvignon and central Victorian Shiraz.

The best indicator of a wines cellaring potential is past performance. For the greatest predictability, choose wines that are known to age well. Beware of the new producer who makes extraordinary claims about the ageing potential of their first wine - the risk of disappointment is greater with these wines.

Once you have selected the wines you wish to cellar, always buy a few bottles. I find that a case is too many, as no matter how good the wine is, I get bored drinking it after a while. I recommend buying a minimum of three and a maximum of six bottles of each wine for your cellar.

And lastly, trust your own palate. Taste some older wines (buy some wines at auction) to find what you like then buy the younger versions of the same wines. Success is most certainly a matter of trial and error. If you accept this from the beginning, you will have a lot more fun!

© Toni Paterson September 2005