Most wines aren't built for keeping, but it might surprise you where ageworthy treasure can be found. Martin Brown from our Fine Wine Team shares some under-£20 tips.
The least pleasurable wine tasting I've ever been to was, I now begrudgingly realise, one of the most educational. Back when I was first getting into 'the trade' and trying to soak up as much vinous knowledge as I could, a well-meaning family friend took it upon themselves to help. Believing that all wine improved with age, their garage was raided and a tasting convened.
My guts still manage a Pavlovian quiver thinking back to the line-up of 10+ year-old shelf-stuffers, laid out before me with such kindness and pride that I knew immediately that I was doomed to either infamy or illness. By the end, it wasn't just the 1995 Vinho Verde that had gone green but as they say, there's a daffodil in every dustbin: I had experienced the kind of wine-faults masterclass people pay good money for these days, and received a frankly unforgettable lesson that the vast majority of the wine sold around the world simply isn't built for age.
A series of happier tastings since and I've also come to realise that some wines age better than many might think. Buying a few bottles and trying one every year or two to see how they're getting on is a joy. If you'd like your garage to be a source of cheerier wine education in a few years' time (or, even better, fancied tucking a few bottles away in our purpose-built Members' Reserves), I can heartily recommend these under-£20 tips for a spot of medium-term ageing:
Austrian grüner veltliner
One of my favourite recent summaries of our own-label range came from a member on our online Community, who described them as 'gems hiding in plain sight' on our List. A 2008 bottle of our Exhibition Grüner, made by the superb Willi Bründlmayer, reminded me recently that you can get an even more refined gem if you hide them yourself for a while.
Good examples of Austria's signature white grape mature with a panache that might surprise some. The citrus fruit mellows and becomes more interesting, the texture broadens and the grape's classic pepper-pot twist becomes more marked. I will be putting some of the ripe but mouthwatering 2018 Exhibition 'Grü-V' aside for these very reasons (our drink date is to 2022, but I might live dangerously and leave it a little longer).
One of the great curios of the wine world, Alsace's top muscats are made using a strain of this grape usually reserved for sweet wine – specifically, the fortified Muscat Beaumes de Venise – but picked early and then fermented until bone dry. Many smell uncannily as though they're going to be sweet until you taste them, and it's a bit like going from dessert to aperitif with a single sensory flick of the switch.
With age, something else remarkable happens, with this fascinating double-bluff being overlaid with hints of mint. There are few wines in the world that have such culinary dexterity, capable of complementing the oft-vinicidal asparagus and a surprising amount of spicy dishes. For delicious proof, give Trimbach's Muscat Réserve 2017 a couple of years' age.
Last year I was shaken and stirred at a blind tasting when a hauntingly beautiful red left me flummoxed as to what it could be. It transpired it was Jean-Marc Burgaud's 2005 Morgon Côte du Py, sold for a mere £8.50 by us back in the day. I've been grabbing a few bottles of different vintages here and there to keep ever since, and was similarly captivated by the 2007 when I tried it at his cellar back in January (blind again, but this time buyer Tim Sykes was on hand to nail the vintage). The 2017 is an intricate, coiled and intense wine that will unfurl beautifully over the next five or six years, and is a stunning advert for the ageworthiness of some Beaujolais, and for a relative song.
Richard Wyndham, a member from Suffolk, pleasantly surprised by a 14-year-old bottle of Exhibition Morgon he recently discovered!
South African Pinotage
It hurts that this grape still gets a bum deal: the sins of a few producers for a finite period have left a concerning mark on many of us and attracted some of the most colourfully scornful phrases I've heard directed at fermented grape juice. But if you've not tried Kanonkop's take on the variety with a few cycles of the moon under its belt, I believe you're missing out. The magnificent 2017 vintage of our Exhibition Pinotage is lovely now but will really come of age in about six years: expect Bordeaux-lover-caressing smokiness with a bolt of black-fruited charm.
Want to find out more about fine wines under £20? Take a look at our Small Wonders page