The Gentleman’s Cellar: Summer Whites that Last
Red Wine is handy. You put it in your cellar and more than likely it will drink well over at least a few years, if not much longer. It may lose its fruit but will probably develop some appealing secondary flavours which offset the loss. Whites are a bit more delicate proposition. If the wine is a fresh, aromatic white there is risk that a lot of the zesty character that makes it delicious on the patio will fade after a year or two. These wines have often ended up in the cook pot in my kitchen over the years. The rich weighty wines face the threat of premature oxidation, making them undrinkable after only a few years. It would be nice to have some go-to whites that one could buy by the case, drink a few over summer for their youth and freshness, then not worry about the bottles that are left over in the fall when you start looking for heartier fare at the (indoor)dinner table.
These wines fall under the fresh and light catagery, but fortunately also under the cheap and cheerful. Muscadet is fresh like a seabreeze, faint and salty. If you get a bottle that says “sur lie” on it you might move up from the $8-10 mark into the $15-18 mark, but the wines still have a citrus freshness combined with a bit more weight that helps them age up to a decade gracefully, sometimes more. The acidity in these wines is key. Since they are less like biting into a fresh apple and more like eating fresh seafood, ie more savoury than fruity, the aged versions actually don’t taste remarkably different, just a bit more subtle and complex. If you enjoy Italian Pinot Grigio, or other wines that are fresh without being obnoxiously fruity, you will most likely find something to like about Muscadet. If not then turn to the oysters.
Many of the terrible, sugar cocktail Rieslings from Germany have been remarkably improved over the last decade. They are less sweet and more fresh tasting. Typically, the tartness is so high that it masks the sweetness in the wine making it a perfect patio sipper, especially for salads, cold seafood, etc. Those willing to invest a bit more money to buy the German Spatlese and Auslese Rieslings probably realize they’re getting a wine that will drink well over 20-30 years, no problem. But the cheap ones will last a few years no problem as well, holding onto their fruitiness more than say a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. For dry Riesling, the aussie stuff can be hit or miss. Many of the cheaper ones although dry lack the acidity to preserve themselves. Moving up in price a bit, to a Clare or Eden Valley variety, with its barely-ripe, low-alcohol, ultra-acidic temperament will sit nicely in your cellar and get richer and richer in flavour over a decade.
Often straight from the winery many Champagnes are much older than we realize, or at least part of the wine is much older. Young Champagnes in the winery are so tart that they can be virtually undrinkable. They need a few years to soften the tartness and to take on some flavourful weight which balances the tartness. Champagne growers have relied on this ageability to create their product for over 200 years. Despite this, we usually will drink it immediately after we buy it. After all, usually these are purposeful purchases that aren’t meant to go anywhere near the cellar. Champagne is expensive, but if you do drink it the wiser method is to put several bottles in your cellar so you have it in the more impromptu moments. Even the grocery store labels like Moet and Veuve will last happily for years waiting for a perfect occasion.