Cellar-aging County wines can turn “casual companions” into “friends with benefits” Konrad Ejbich
A while back, I wrote about the ideal conditions required for aging great wine. Remember? Keep the space cool, dark and vented, as well as odour- and vibration-free. (See……….
Afterwards, a reader approached me to ask, “Why should I bother? We buy all our wines at the LCBO as we need them. Most of the time I buy a $20 wine for a special family dinner or some $15 wines for weekend parties. Anyway, the stuff I buy isn’t going to get much better.”
Wine is one of the few commodities that, with aging, can improve both in flavour and in value. Having more wine on hand than you can drink in a sitting or in a week or even a month is not an absurd idea.
You keep a pantry stocked full of food, dry goods like rice, pasta, potatoes, cans, jars and preserves of all sorts, as well as a freezer packed with more stuff. Why wouldn’t you keep a separate pantry for wine and store a few bottles to someday accompany those family meals, summer gatherings or special tête-à-têtes with your bestie?
Take sparkling wine, for example. Too many people think of bubbly as a special occasion wine. Okay, I’ll grant that. In my books, anytime someone drops by to visit is a special occasion.
Whether you like to plan your affairs well in advance or prefer spontaneous kitchen parties with family, friends, neighbours or co-workers, you never know when you’ll need a celebratory bottle.
What if your friends drop by to announce a new job, new boyfriend, new baby? Stock your wine pantry with at least a half dozen bottles of decent sparkling wine, like those from Casa Dea, Hinterland or Huff.
A mere eight minutes in an ice bath is all it takes to bring sparkling wine to the right serving temperature, no longer than it takes to brew a pot of coffee. Fill the sink with cold water, add a bunch of ice and let your bottle chill.
Next, stash at least a case each of your go-to red and white wine, the ones you like so much you would want others to know about them.
When all the guests to your next potluck bring food and no one brings wine, you can step away quietly, dig into your wine pantry, and save the day.
This is also the stockpile you fall back on when you need a host gift, or a thank you bottle for a gracious favour done.
Storing wine is “asset management.” Wine will deteriorate quickly in poor conditions, so rotating stock and renewing inventory are crucial.
The vast majority of wines are ready to drink right away. Producers know that most people don’t have the time, money or patience to cellar long-lived expensive wines for years. But even the cheapest ready-to-drink wines are made to be “shelf-stable” for at least nine months to a year in the warm, brightly lit, environment of a liquor store. If however, those same bottles are carefully preserved in a cool, dark place, they will hold up for much longer and may even develop a softer, smoother edge.
Even if you end up drinking them all yourself over dinners or quiet evenings with your pals, you can save yourself multiple last-minute trips to the LCBO by buying in case lots.
It’s an enlightening exercise to taste one bottle from the case every second month for two years, and experience the subtle changes.
In addition to these quick turnover wines, you will eventually begin putting down a bottle or two for genuinely special occasions. That rich pinot noir for your next Christmas turkey, a premium bubbly for your kid’s graduation, that bold cabernet-merlot for an upcoming anniversary.
Here’s where the really good bottles come into their own. Each of the local wineries produces a premium cuvée, top-of-the-crop, best-barrel-selection special bottling. These are the specialty items one sets aside for a few years down the road. The bottles listed in the tasting notes below are examples of new releases that are good now but will definitely get better with time.
For me as a wine professional, a wine cellar serves as a taste laboratory and flavour library. It’s where I keep my “taste toys.” By collecting a wide variety of wines from different grapes, regions and winemakers, I can better experience all the subtleties of wine.
Profit, however, should not be your prime reason to cellar wine. The best reason is to safely bring it to its point of peak drinking. For some wines that may be a year or two, for others it may be a decade or more.
I can’t afford 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild today, but I did buy a case in 1977 at $22.20 per bottle. It was a lot to pay for wine back then. Over the next two decades, we happily drank all but two, which went into an LCBO auction twenty-five years later and paid back for all the others and many more.
Currently, I’m holding a couple of Canadian bottles approaching fifty years of age and both are still drinkable. When everyone else has drunk their bottles mine become rarer and, yes, more valuable, both historically speaking, as well as monetarily.
If the Ontario government was to permit the resale of wine by auction, licenced brokers or otherwise, some Ontario wines would be perfectly positioned to become valuable rarities for which connoisseurs would pay top dollar.
First, though, the Ford government must ease the ridiculous restrictions currently in place. Because if they fail, these cultural treasures will eventually be sold abroad and lost permanently to foreign collectors.
Konrad’s Pick of
Cellar-worthy County wines:
Harwood Estate Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir ($32)
The Loyalist Parkway vineyard was originally planted in 2003 and these grapes are really beginning to show their age and depth. It’s the first estate pinot noir to be crafted here by new winemaker Karlee Moore. The wine is a brilliant ruby hue signalling freshness and youth. Its bright, cherry-strawberry nose and vibrant, cranberry flavours are clean and supple, with a warm, earthy undertone in the aftertaste. You could serve it with salmon, duck, rabbit or turkey. I liked it just fine with a simple roast chicken dinner. (148 cases produced.)
Best drinking: 2021 to 2024
Karlo Estates 2017 Quintus ($66)
There are six grape varieties approved for inclusion in the classic Bordeaux blend. Next year, Karlo will release “Sextus,” the first Ontario wine to include all six. Meanwhile, Quintus has five of the varieties in this blend, with some of the fruit sourced outside the County. Winemaker Derek Barnett has crafted this baby to taste rich in its youth and sublimely elegant in its old age. The colour is inky purple-garnet. Big, bold aromas flow easily from an oversized glass, with scents of dark berries and plums, vanilla, toasted hazelnuts, roasted coffee, and a tarry whiff of smoky oak. Full, firm and solid on the palate, the fruit is concentrated but closed up, hiding many secrets yet to come. Strong, tongue-gripping and still a bit thorny in its current juvenile stage, I see this bottle in someone’s future complementing a barbecued leg of lamb, or rich, mushroom ragout. I strongly recommend a “violent decanting” for the first three to five years. That’s where you quickly turn the opened bottle over into a decanter or jug and let the wine dump out rapidly, burbling all the way. This aerates the young juice, allowing it to release its locked-in aromas and flavours. After five years, consider decanting slowly and gently to separate any developing fine sediment from the clear wine. (50 cases.)
Best drinking: From 2023 to 2030
Redtail Vineyards 2017 “Farmhouse” Pinot Noir ($39)
This is the last vintage produced from the original vines planted from 2003 through 2006 by founding winemaker Gilbert Provost. In 2018, he sold the estate, which now is undergoing renovation and renewal. Aside from its historic interest, there is so much to enjoy in this wine. Organically produced, it has a pure, raw pinot taste with cherry and cranberry flavours, along with a quiet minerality, providing support and longevity to the delicate fruit. The new ownership uprooted the vineyard last year and has replanted with classic Burgundian varieties, so there’ll be no estate-grown wine for a while. (150 cases.)
Best drinking: From 2021 to 2024
Stanners Vineyard 2017 Pinot Noir “The Narrow Rows” ($45)
Winner of the 2019 Judgment of Kingston, this is the most concentrated pinot made here. The grapes are from the oldest parcel in the vineyard, where the rows are narrowly spaced to force the vines to send their roots deeper into the fractured limestone soil. Mid-weight with pronounced red fruit aromas and tart cranberry, red cherry and sweet plum flavours. Soft and satiny with a dusting of oak, earth and fine minerality in the noble finish. In a cooler cellar, this wine could hold its peak for up to a decade. (353 cases.)
Best drinking: 2022 to 2025+
Sugarbush Vineyards 2018 Cabernet Franc ($20)
Prince Edward County is lucky that Robert Peck abandoned the air-conditioned comforts of officious Ottawa to practice humble husbandry here at his home in Hillier. Working from a three-car garage, he produces small batches of hand-crafted wines sourced entirely from the estate. I tasted a twelve year old bottle next to this young release. It held up extremely well with its faint cherry-plum bouquet and sweet, mellowed cherry compote taste. The 2018 is purple-blue with vibrant cherry-strawberry-cassis aromas and mouth-coating flavours. It’s so tasty now, it may be difficult to keep, but try. You won’t regret it. (250 cases.)
Best drinking: Now to 2026
Trail Estate Pinot Noir 2018 ($55)
This is the third vintage that winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois has crafted from the estate vineyard. It’s delicious to drink now, with its bright ruby colour, vibrant, juicy cherry aromas, and smooth, ripe taste. I’d serve it in large, balloon-shaped glasses to really show off the bouquet. But hold a few bottles in the cellar for a year or three, and you’ll discover increased depth and mineral complexity. (100 cases.)
Best drinking: 2021 to 2024