Purple Elbows: January/February 2013

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Cellaring — the basic game plan for the ultimate red wine experience

By Richard Jones, PQ Monthly
Richard Jones Richard Jones
If you labor under the tragic misfortune of having a passion for elegant well-aged red wines, you will have noticed that very few wine shops carry 10-year-old pinot noirs or 20-year-old cabernets. And even if they had any in stock, the price would inflict some serious indigestion upon your piggy bank. The obvious solution is to shack up with a free-spending Goldman Sachs partner who receives several million dollars a year for making colossally disastrous financial decisions. Failing that, you might buy a few young wines with potential and hide them for five or 15 years. Before you start shaking coins from your piggy bank, you would do well to ask yourself one or two questions. If Northwestern cabernets and merlots tinkle your Riedel crystal stemware, you can find some very decent pours for around $10 on the lower shelf of your neighborhood wine shop. If you look on the next shelf up, you will find some bottles around $20, not to mention others on the top shelf at $40 or more. Considerably more. The first question to ask yourself is whether you will derive more pleasure from two $10 bottles or from one $20 bottle. Or would you prefer one — gulp! — $40 bottle to four at $10 each. If you select the $10 option, do not pass Go, do not spend $40. No wrong answers here. You are the world’s greatest expert on your preferences, are you not?

The basics of a wine cellar

Having decided to stash some wine out of temptation’s way, you need to find the best place to keep your liquid treasures for the next seven years or so. Any cool, dark location will do. Store them under the bed, in the closet, or in your grandfather’s WWII Sherman tank parked in your living room. For two or three cases, a corner on your closet floor will do. If your treasured bottles have corks (as opposed to screw tops or synthetic closures), rest your bottles on their backs so they don’t dry out. If your wine is likely to throw sediment (tartrate crystals or dead yeast globs) you might store label up. That way you will know where the sediment is hiding. If you can raise the neck about 10 degrees, the sludge will collect into a penny-sized lump in the heal of the bottle. That means more clean wine to drink and less to toss in the skillet. The trick is to stock enough everyday wines to minimize the temptation to see how your serious wines are coming along.

Some price-worthy choices

$10-$12 cabs and merlots: Buy some basic, but pleasing, red wines from Covey Run, Hogue, and Columbia Crest “Two Vines†or Washington Hills or some from Ste. Chapelle in Idaho. These will keep you happy and allow your primo wines to snooze. $20 pinots: Several reliable pinots in the $20 range include Ayres, Evesham Wood, and Westrey offer good value. J. Cristopher (both their $20 bottles as well as their $40 ones) should not be missed. Hold two or three years. Upscale pinots: Some prestige Oregon pinots include Cameron “Clos Electrique,†Couer de Terre estate, Domaine Serene, Shea Wine Cellars (especially the Shea Vineyard), Stoller, and Z’ivo. Hold 10 years — or more. $20+ cabs and merlots: Walla Walla Valley vintners offer many at $40 to $60. Abeja, Pepper Bridge, Reininger, and Woodward Canyon should age beautifully. Give them 10 years or more. Syrah: Cristom’s Estate Syrah from the Willamette Valley (about $35) can approach Hermitages from the Rhône Valley costing $80 to $120. Give the Cristom 10 years to show its stuff. Call the winery to find the retailer closest to you. Abacela, in southern Oregon, produces both syrah and tempranillo in a hefty style. They could be good companions during Northwest winters. Many excellent new labels show up every week. Ask your favorite wine steward for the latest releases.

Rough estimates on cellar time

Although many pinot noirs can be pleasant at four or five years, some of the high-end bottles can improve for 10 years — and sometimes longer. High-end cabernet sauvignons are often very rough at three or four years. They come loaded with oak that only a beaver could love. Time, thankfully, will tame this. These are just a few of the many outstanding Pacific Northwest wines. Be sure to buy what pleases you rather than what some cranky old scribbler thinks you should ingest. Just remember to give the expensive wines time to develop. If you buy a cabernet in need of 15 years — and you open it at three — please don’t shed your tears on my doorstep and ask for a hanky. Most importantly, remember (1) everyone’s tastes are different, (2) de gustibus non disputandum, and (3) vive la diference!
Reader’s choice: What subjects would you like to see covered in Purple Elbows? Give us a clue and we’ll see what we can do. Email your suggestions to info@pqmonthly.com. Richard Jones has imbibed a great deal of vino in his years as a winemaker, wine judge, wine writer, wine publisher, wine lecturer, and wine traveler. When he doesn’t have his nose in a glass, he works as a freelance reporter.