I want to sample older vintages

I just started with wine as a hobby. I am trying a lot of different wines to figure out what I like, to start developing my tasting ability, and mostly out of curiosity.

I want to try some older vintages, just to see what a twenty year old (or so) bottle of wine tastes like versus the more recent vintages I am mostly sampling.

I am in my 50s and don’t want to wait 20 years to age my own.

Question, should I try a 20 year old Napa Cab, a Bordeaux, a Burgundy, a white Burgundy? Any suggestions.

I figured I would spend about 200 to 300 per bottle.

It’s less about the type (Napa vs Bord vs Burg) and more about making sure you get a producer with aging potential and a bottle that has been stored properly. With those two components in place, you’re going to get a incredible experience no matter Napa / Bord / Burg - that question is more of a personal choice IMO. I’d suggest Cellar Tracker as a good start to see how an older wine is holding up (see if there are recent reviews on the particular wine). Finally, I’d get an Ah-So wine opener like this one https://www.amazon.com/Monopol-Westmark-Germany-Two-Prong-Puller/dp/B0002WZR4K. I learned from my mistakes after 1 too many broken corks…

I love burgundian-styled wines myself, and one producer who rightfully gets a ton of love on this forum is Joe Davis / Arcadian wines. His wines have tremendous aging potential and you can buy 20 year old wines directly from him still, ensuring provenance. His website has gone dark (there’s a forum talking about it which you can search for) but I’ve been communicating with him via email and believe he still has some older wines available for sale. Lmk if you want his email.

Thanks for the advice

To be honest I would read here every day for the next couple of months. You’ll learn so much that you’ll be in a better place to figure out where to best put your $200-300 per bottle.

Storage and provenance are very important. Doing some sleuthing on Cellartracker is helpful. And there are lots of knowledgeable people on this board who are familiar with your price range.

But I would also suggest finding a really good local wine shop. They probably won’t have any 20 year old bottles, but the owner can tell you what producers and vintages to look for, and perhaps more importantly, what producers and vintages to skip.

In an effort not to overwhelm too much, perhaps these practical steps may help:

  1. Find a trusted wine store that sells older vintages. If you don’t have one near you, I’d suggest K&L, which ships nationally, has a very nice website with updated inventory, and has older vintages (but not so many such that it’s overload). Just search “1999” for example and you’ll see what they have from that vintage.

  2. Do research on specific wines that may be interesting to you - style, producer reputation, etc.

  3. Cross-reference with cellartracker to see if there are any recent tasting notes

I think you can find out what you like for less than $200-300/bottle, and get more variety to check out and see what resonates. E.G., you could get a more savory and a more fruit forward bordeaux (2x$150 versus 1x 300). or two of the same wine, with one being 2000/prior and one being much older to see how you like the savory characteristics over time. You could get a pre-bubblegum era and post-bubble gum era napa cab vs. a single bottle of cab. Or one napa cab and one california syrah. Maybe one strong burgundy since they can be more expensive, although you can pick up a 2005 Drouhin Mouche for $125 that I think will be pretty informative for whether you like burgundy vs the other wines you will be trying. Ditto for italians, split your budget and get one brunello and one barolo for $150 each… many options out there and you don’t need to go to the 1990s to scratch that itch.

Now, if you want to see what the quality pick up is at $300/bottle, that’s a different question. But to see what you like, I think can be achieved for much less per bottle, with very high quality wines and a higher probability of success for finding what you like. There is an ocean of wine out there… this is easy to do.

One thing I would suggest is to taste these wines with someone who knows who to describe them in wine speak. So you can find the descriptors that match the style of wine you like, and with those descriptors you can start to find more of those wines.

Benchmark Wine has many older bottles and has a provenance guarantee (though what exactly it entails is a little hazy). I have never used them, but I might if I were looking for the kind of bottle you are. Provenance and storage will be crucial. Cellarraiders is another site that specializes in older bottles. I am sure there are more.

I agree you should probably start with Bordeaux/Napa/Piemont as these are heralded regions and you can approach them with your budget, but I should add that - assuming you can find them in the US - all the Caves São João wines from the 1980s and 1990s are extremely age worthy and much cheaper than the budget you’ve set for yourself.

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The Caves Sao Joao are available in the US. Wine.com has a selection (at least in my state, their selection varies by state) from the 1980s and 1990s, both red and white. As Tomas said, they are affordable considering their age. Even the 1983 red reserve is under $100.

So here’s a question that relates to the OP. Is there such a thing as a pay-to-taste tasting of fine wines? For example, 10-11 customers could pay $50-100 each to taste several different bottles of fine wine, perhaps with a theme?

As a novice who would like to start a small collection, I would sign up for something like that once a month or once a quarter. How else am I going to get to taste, for example, 5 different bottles of burgundy or whatever the theme is. It’s not like I have a friend who is going to go down into his cellar and open up 5 expensive bottles for me.

Hi Ron,

I tried that early on. It was put on by a local wine shop. We tasted wines from different regions that they had for sale. All were young though and there wasn’t much knowledge sharing between the attendees. I went twice and then found a better way.

There are wine tasting groups all over the country. There’s a thread that lists some people in different cities that are looking for offline events. https://www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=108793&hilit=offline

It might help if you put your location in so it shows when you post a message.

I happened to see a message about a DC group that was getting back together and asked if I could attend. I was welcomed by a great group. You don’t pay to attend, you just have to bring a wine that matches the theme of the tasting. Usually the group brings wines from a chosen region with a threshold age and price. I’d find a wine that matched on a local wine store’s web site, usually in their offline storage and then review recent Cellar Tracker reviews to see how the wine was drinking. I didn’t want to buy something that was way past it’s prime or a wine that was too young. And I definitely didn’t want to bring a burgundy that was in it’s dumb phase. BTW, you will learn that burgundy is good young and better old, but seems to have a dumb phase in between. You will read messages stating that the wine has closed down or “is now a wall of acid”. So you really want to review current tasting notes. I then pick up my purchase on my way to the tasting. I now have a few older bottles and have brought wine from my collection to the last few events.

This is a great way to learn about different regions, older wines and strong producers. I was overwhelmed at first and didn’t take good enough notes. I still drank some incredible wine, learned from listening to people who knew much more than me and had a great time. I remember the cedar in Billy’s 1995 Chateau Certan as I write this. Blew my mind.

I’m sure there will be a surge in wine group tastings when we get through Covid.

Lonnie

Solid advice, thank you!

In addition to what everyone else has mentioned:

  • Rioja with >20 years age can be absolutely delicious, and well within your budget. 1995 Lopez Tondonia Gran Reserva is their current release, should be just under $200. I’ve had certain other Rioja from the 1960s that were remarkable, and still <$250.

  • Chateau Musar ages wonderfully, regularly releases old vintages from their cellar (i.e. you don’t have to worry about how it was stored in the meantime) 1998 still under $100. The whites are fantastic too.

  • If you want to dip your toe in to affordable aged Burgundy, Robert Ampeau ages on site, and releases older vintages when ready. FWIW, I love the whites at the price, like-but-don’t-entirely-love the reds. 1997 Meursault should be right at $100

  • Certain Loire wines age wonderfully- Olga Raffault, Domaine aux Moines, Nicolas Joly, Gerard Boulay, many others. These are perhaps more niche preferences, but old bottles are often <=$100, and if you like the style, they’re amazing.

im just seeing this thread but one of the best places to grab some older wine for at “im not sure how im gonna feel about this” pricing is Chambers St. Wine in NY. i dont know how they do it but their offering of older Italian wine is pretty fantastic. I’ve been shocked by a couple of the 50ish year old wines that I paid like $40-50 for. theres not quite as many of those on the site now, but there is still some great stuff with plenty of age for a pretty good price.

To actually answer your question, Bordeaux and Piedmont would be where I would start. You will still be able to find wines from those regions with age that dont always need to be in that 200-300 range (and you definitely dont have to spend more than that for them when youre just starting to learn). older burg and good quality cali that will have held up seem to be the more pricey options based on where I’ve looked (with an exceptions like older Mondavi being beautiful and affordable). if you’re looking in that 20ish year old range, another great option is Oregon. several producers in OR have bene making great wine for 30ish years and those wines can be found for silly pricing sometimes: Drouhin, St Innocent, Bethel Heights, Eyrie all have fairly old bottlings that can be fantastic.

Edited to add: dont sleep on German wines. 20 years is nothing for German Riesling aging potential

It is certainly interesting to taste some older bottles too. But be aware, just as a kid drinking wine for the first time doesn’t really like it, trying older wines with tertiary aromas for the first time is not usually something everybody instantly loves. It’s an acquired taste.

As you are venturing out here are some suggestions:

Napa: Buy old Dominus (1991, 1992, 1994) or Opus (1991, 1996). These are widely available and in their prime and around your price level. Dominus 1994 is even a legend. If you buy something else I would focus first on the 1994 vintage (with 1991, 1992 next best). Check out Cellartracker scores for the wines before you buy it. You’ll get a good sense of which wines are the best wines.

Bordeaux: Focus on 1989 and 1990. Again, check out Cellartracker scores for the wines before you buy it. You’ll get a good sense of which wines are the best wines. There are quite a few options here but some research is necessary. Lynch Bages 1989/1990 are a great pair. But there are many more.

Red Burgundy: It will be tough to get a really good aged Burgundy. Availability is low.

White Burgundy: Same, same. Tough game here, especially as the premox problem is complicating things further.

As a suggestion, I would recommend searching for something you already own in an older vintage. Try them side by side - you may need to decant the earlier wine, though that will give you the most context, especially if from the same estate.

Lots of great advice already. As you discover certain regions and styles that you like, I would hone in on producers vs. vintage because the best producers always find a way to make great wines (that is actually one of the defining elements of great “terroir” or “grand cru” type winery status; the ability of the site and/or winemaker to produce great wines year after year). There are some extreme exceptions when rains, hail, wildfire smoke, etc., cannot be avoided but a great producer would typically declassify that particular vintage. That said, the advice to double check on Cellar Tracker is good but I would only add that some negative reviews could be associated with poor cellar conditions (especially when you see both strong and weak reviews for a given bottle/vintage).

If you want to read how critics are reviewing older vintages, I would recommend Vinous or the Wine Advocate. They frequently post reviews and tasting notes for cuvées and producers worthy of older vintage reviews and retrospectives. If you have time (commuting?) and want a deep dive with various top producers, the podcast “I’ll Drink to That” has really amazing long-form interviews (Levi Dalton— you can peruse the website too).

Finally, here in the Pacific Northwest, if you are interested in Oregon and Washington in particular, the Herbfarm restaurant sells (part of?) their 20,000-bottle cellar at great pricing (case discount covers the shipping cost). They have reasonably priced older vintages for wines from all regions, but lots more choice for Oregon Pinot and Washington Cabs and Rhine-Style red blends.
https://store.theherbfarm.com/

Have fun!

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A few years ago I was in this spot, not knowing what I would want to store in my cellar, what we would like aged, etc. I think at someone’s suggestion, I contacted Benchmark wine group and wound up talking to someone (maybe it was email exchange, I can’t remember) and we discussed what my wife and I currently drink/like, and they proposed some older wines across a wide spectrum (red, white, US, Euro, South America, etc.). If I recall, the average was something like $115 a bottle, with a few less than 100 and some approaching 200. Obviously, since you are already thinking higher than that price range, you can expand your options even more.

What I really liked, besides the wide variety, was the dialogue with Benchmark about the approach to discovering what we would like.