In part II I addressed the first issue of building your collection: How many bottles of a given wine should you buy. In this installment I will dscuss the second important issue of building your wine collection.
The second issue you will face is which wines shall I buy?
First of all, what do you enjoy? We will into the red/ white battle in the future, but if your favorite house wine is $4.99 White Zinfandel then stock up with a case no questions asked. Do you like to pair wines with foods? How often do you have wine? Take inventory of what is important to you and buy accordingly. The momentary structure I suggest you impose will give you a freedom in the future you would have never imagined for yourself.
Rather than dictate which wines I will go over varietals/regions you should consider always having on hand in accordance with your personal tastes. That being said you should always keep at least one bottle on hand of the following wines for personal enjoyment, guests or meal pairings.
- Riesling and Gewürztraminer: These often overlooked wines are work horses with foods from Mexican and Chinese to French or BBQ. These wines are fantastic to drink, generally good values, and fine Rieslings can also age with amazing results.
- Chardonnay: Much loved, debated, and hated chardonnay is an important staple wine. Chardonnay is produced around the world to different effect so even though you think you hate a fruity or oaky monster keep trying and don’t be afraid to like one when you find it. For those who don’t have an aversion to chardonnay this may be a good candidate for an initial house wine. If this is you pick up 3-6 bottles of your favorite $15 dollar chardonnay. In addition try to have on hand 1 to 3 bottles of a better white burgundy such as a fine Chablis (shab-lee), Pugliny Montrachet, (poo-lee-nee mon-ra-shay) Chassange Montrachet ( sha-son mon-ra-shay), Meursault (mer-so) and finer Californian chardonnay. These may be ready to drink right away or may benefit from cellar time. The white burgundies and finer California chardonnays are classified as “special wines” in my book.
- Sauvignon Blanc: This grassy apple of a wine is a gem with foods from the sea or garden. New Zealand, Central California or French versions such as Sancerre (san ser) or Pouilly-Fume (poo-yee foo-meh). These tend to be built to drink young but on occasion can age 6-10 years. I would suggest you error on the side of caution. This is often another great house wine and values can be had buying the Kiwi brands.
- Champagne/Cremant/ Sparkling wine (Rosé champagne included): Buy three bottles of good quality Champagne and pick up a few bottles of Cremant or Sparkling wine (Piper Sonoma!) Drink and replenish these at least annually. Sometimes Tuesday is a special occasion!
- Sauternes: This sweet nectar from heaven is something you should always have on hand. I suggest collecting these wines if you can. There are many great sauternes outside of the legendary Chateau d’Yquem. Premier cru half bottles can be had for less than $40 dollars.
Owning Red wines is both an art and a science. The art lies in knowing when to drink the wine and the science is in picking, buying and storing the wine until it is time to drink. Since this article is for the novice and intermediate wine drinker/owner I will give you my opinions and take my lumps from those who are certain they know better. Since many red wines are sturdily built and take time to reach their potential I will offer a mix of wines that should be kept and drank early as well as for the long haul.
- Pinot Noir/ Red Burgundy: This varietal is popular and you can’t throw a stick without hitting somebody with an opinion. While the great burgundian wines have held up for decades in the bottle, the verdict is still out on new world pinot. First of all domestic pinot noir has not been around long enough to know how a 40 year old wine will taste and second of all, it is marketed and designed to be fruit forward and drank today. Buy a few bottles of domestic pinot noir that spoke to you from a wine trip or tasting event. Study up and buy 1 or 2 bottles of French burgundy that stretch your wallet a bit. Found for a good price this is a good house wine option. Drink your friends pinot’s whenever possible.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: Buy 6 bottles of big cabernet each year. Oakville/ Napa is my suggestion for people who are starting out, want big fruit, complexity and a baseline. Washington and Chilean Cabs are also great. Put these in your cellar and drink them over time. You will have a monster collection to enjoy your entire life. Don’t skimp. If you think cabernet sauvignon is your house wine choice, start with Tempranillo (below) until your collection matures.
- Merlot: unless you rely on $8 bottles for your daily drinker, skip it all together and buy Bordeaux.
- Tempranillo: This is a wine that can be enjoyed now while your Bordeaux and Cab mellow out. These wines are fruit forward and the tannins are soft. Best of all you can have a case for under $120 dollars that will knock your socks off. Tempranillo is my top choice for a red house wine.
- Syrah/Shiraz: Go for Australia and Santa Barbara: These fruit bombs will make you and your guests happy at a great value. If you really love a fine syrah consider collecting them. Penfolds Grange is one of the world’s great wines. With excellent bottles at less than 10 dollars Syrah is a wonderful house wine.
- Bordeaux: These wines are intimidating. The first growth wines are legendary with price tags to prove it. The D2 route through Bordeaux is heavy with history however you can buy new and even aged second thru fifth growth wines for a good price. Look at the ratio of merlot to cabernet sauvignon in these wines. The higher the percentage of merlot the faster it is generally ready to drink. Buy 3 to 6 bottles of the highest scoring blockbusters you can afford every year and keep them like you will your cabernet collection. You will have a good wine life.
- Californian Bordeaux Blends: Hold off on buying these bottles for now unless you have tried them and can’t live without them. Once you have become more familiar with value Bordeaux, the Californian blends can be an even better value. I am only suggesting you hold off initially so you have the experience of Bordeaux for the fact once you find a good Californian producer you love you may never go back.
- Zinfandel: the California native is another key to a great collection. While these can age for many years, like Tempranillo, many red zinfandels are ready to drink early while you wait for your cabs and Bordeaux to mature.
Yes, buy and drink all summer long. Don’t keep them. They may not stay good for more than two years.
~~~In part IV I will show you how many bottles you need and help you to plan for the future~~~