Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stockin' the New Cellar: Joe's Top 50 Cellar Picks

(photo: inside the Steltzner cellars)

I prefer not to "recycle" old posts, but once a year I like to update my Top 50 Cellar Picks: cellar-worthy reds priced from C$20-40. The rationale is detailed in my original post below, with this update of a top page on my site is to reflect new successes, as well as disappointments with previous picks.

Here's the original post (1/22/07) followed by my updated picks:

For Christmas, my good friend Eden received from his (perfect) wife some wine racks to start collecting. To put this new storage to work, he requested my "Top 50" list of wines, priced from C$20- C$40, for cellaring. Fifty wines is very ambitious, but I'll take stab at it! Sorry for the lenghty post...

In considering this request, I had to work within the following parameters:
  • Red wine only - He does not drink white wine (philistine!), so no need to bother there.

  • Cellar worthy - They should be wines that may benefit with age, or at least have a few years of cellaring in them.

  • Availability - These should not be rare/difficult to find offerings.

  • Vintages - A winery that seems to perform reasonably well over a variety of vintage conditions.

  • Balance - While he has a clear preference for Aussie Shiraz, I felt he needed to expand the collection to cover some old world wines as well.

  • Previously tasted - No recommendations from books, just stuff I know.

Here were my suggestions, grouped by region:

With Bordeaux prices rocketing, it is not the easiest region for "values", but I have a few ideas in the target price range:

  1. Chateau Pibran (Pauillac) - Classic Bordeaux, good year in and year out.
  2. Chateau Croix-Mouton (Superieur) - by Jean-Phillipe Janoueix, the name was changed to "Croix-Mouton" (from "Mouton") due to a legal dispute with the 'other' Mouton in Bordeaux...
  3. Chateau Potensac (Medoc) - Another classic Bordeaux
  4. Chateau Clarke (Cru Bourgeois) - Probably a touch more modern as of late, but nicely made.
  5. Chateau Pipeau (St-Emilion) - Is it possible to get a good St-Emilion in this price range? Yes!

The Rhone is host to numerous great values, and an excellent way to draw my friend out of the safety of Australia and into the "Old World". Here are just a few:

  1. Chateau Signac "Cuvee Terra Amata" (Cotes du Rhone) - Big, brawny modern-styled Rhone, a great value
  2. Domaine du Vieux Lazaret (Chateauneuf du Pape) - At the high end of the assigned price range, but a tremendous CdP that shames some at twice the price.

While the wines of the Southwest are not widely known, the following estates appear widely available and make compelling, age-worthy wines:

  1. Chateau Montus (Madiran) - Tremendous, age-worthy wines made from the Tannat grape by the talented Alain Brumont
  2. Chateau Bouscasse/Vielles Vignes (Madiran) - More Tannat, Alain Brumont
  3. Chateau Lagrezette (Cahors) - A French take on Malbec, various cuvees exist, very nice and age-worthy.

I could probably fill the list with Languedoc-Rousillon wines, but here is a sampling. I especially like the wines of Pic St-Loup:

  1. Chateau Lancyre "Grande Cuvee" (Pic St-Loup) - Well made Grenache/Syrah
  2. Chateau Cazeneuve "Le Roc des Mates" (Pic St-Loup) - Deep, rich and complex

I dove into the Loire this past year, and found two wines that fit the theme:

  1. Charles Joguet "Clos du Chene Vert" (Chinon) - beautiful expression of Cab Franc
  2. Charles Joguet "Clos de la Dioterie" (Chinon) - beautiful expression of Cab Franc

The reds of Burgundy are difficult to fit into this post, mainly due to "availability" (and hefty prices), but here are a few. I don't do the region justice - check out Brooklynguy for a deeper dive into Burgundy.

  1. A et P de Villaine "Les Montots" (Mercurey) - perhaps a touch more challenging to locate than most on this list, but can be found and is a nice price for good Burgundy
  2. Nicolas Potel Santenay Vielles Vignes - a lovely Burgundy at this price point

Broadly speaking, Spain is filled with values, but the key is consistent availability. I would point to:

  1. Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva (Rioja) - Great steak wine
  2. Hacienda Monasterio Crianza (Ribera del Duero) - You must try this, fantastic
  3. Sierra Cantabria (Rioja) - Multiple cuvees, all excellent values
  4. Muga (Rioja) - Very nice take on Rioja and widely available
  5. Quinta da Quietud (Toro) - Availability may be a challenge, but a must have

I couldn't possible forget about Italy. I could probably find 50 wines easily that would be great for the cellar, but pricing can sometimes be high. Here are a few selections:

  1. Clerico "Trevigne" Barbera D'Alba (Piedmont) - Surprising complexity for Barbera
  2. Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (Tuscany) - Great consistency across vintages, ageworthy
  3. Castello Banfi "Colvecchio" (Tuscany) - A Tuscan Syrah? Absolutely.
  4. Capezzana "Ghiaie Della Furba" - A super "Super Tuscan" at a more reasonable price point
  5. Belguardo Poggio Bronzone (Morellino di Scansano) - Nice consistency
  6. Di Majo Norante "Don Luigi" (Molise) - How many ways can I express my love for this wine? Simply awesome - if this list were rank order I would consider it near the top.
  7. Taurino "Notarpanaro" (Puglia) - Obscure grape (negroamaro) from an obscure region, excellent wine.
  8. Planeta Syrah (Sicily) - From Sicily. A nice, but different, take on Syrah.
  9. Allegrini "Palazzo della Torre" (Veneto) - Complex, interesting, balanced, reat value
  10. Allegrini "La Grola" (Veneto) - Ditto

Australia seems to be a go-to region for great values. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Penfold’s Bin 389 - Cab/Shiraz, while not cheap it fits in the range. A classic.
  2. Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon - my only Margaret River selection, very Bordeaux like, aging well.
  3. D'Arenberg "The Lauging Magpie" - A compelling wine for the price, nice year to year consistency.
  4. Elderton Barossa Shiraz - An excellent wine, seeking a more restrained "French" take on Aussie shiraz
  5. Rosemount GSM - I would have put the D'Arenberg Ironstone Pressings here, but the price is above my $40 limit...a nice GSM and widely available
  6. Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot - This has the stuffing to put away for a few years.
  7. Yalumba "The Signature" Cabernet Shiraz - Consistently good, with aging potential.

Chile should be a good source of inexpensive reds, but I haven't tasted that many. Here are two:

  1. Montes Alpha Merlot - This would blow Miles away...
  2. Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre (Cab or Merlot) - powerful, complex New World takes on Bordeaux

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Argentina:

  1. Altos Las Hormigas Reserva - Widely available, very nice
  2. Catena Cabernet Sauvignon - The regular cuvee is an excellent, structured take on this grape
  3. Norton Privada - Prices have moved up from below $20 to above $20, but still a great wine

Two South Africans, including a Pinotage:

  1. Kanonkop Pinotage - meant for aging, very interesting wine, not for everyone
  2. Meerlust Rubicon - a classically styled Claret, with a hint of S. Africa

Unfortunately, a lot of the U.S. wines I could recommend are not widely available or come in outside the necessary price range. Here are a few California selections:

  1. Napanook - Excellent second wine from the maker of Dominus
  2. Ramey Claret - Nice Claret.
  3. Justin Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - Good value
  4. Cline Small Berry Mourvedre - Different, should age nicely
  5. Unti Syrah - Terrific Syrah at this price point


This post is not definitive, and I (and my friend) would love to hear any other suggestions you may have that fit the parameters above.



Brooklynguy said...

Hey Joe - Thanks so much for the link. I hope I do you proud. And I am going to check out your Southwest wines immediately, btw.

take it easy,

Joe said...

No problem. I hope you enjoy those! Tannat (Madiran) alternatives include Chateau Aydie-Laplace and Pisano from Uruguay. Haven't found another Cahors maker that I like other than Lagrezette.

David said...

I'm curious, as someone who buys for current drinking mostly, if there's a typical vintage and duration you'd put these bottles down for, or is it pretty much bottle to bottle?

Joe said...

That is REALLY hard to generalize - bottle to bottle really - but I'll try. For the Bordeaux, Southwest France, and the Kanonkop I would say 5 to 10 years. For my Chilean, Australian, Spanish, Languedoc and Rhone selections 3 to 5 will do - possibly the same for the Italian selections, but that is a very diverse group. The California and Argentina selections are ready now or can be kept for a few years (except the Las Hormigas - keep it longer). Best if you email me (joeswinejournal - at yahoo - dot -ca) specifically on a wine and I will try to get you my best estimate. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

You might know that Charles Joguet had to sell the estate he had built up. So the wines are not magic anymore.
I would recommend that you try another Chinon, by Bernard Baudry, less pepper and more freshness.

Another French red that also is both in your price range and in your market is the intense morgon by Chamonard.

Joe said...

Salut Félicien. Thanks for your suggestion. I have not tried the B. Baudry Chinon, but it is available locally. Once I have tried it I will consider adding it - this list will evolve over time. The Chamonard is not available locally - do you really think it would fit with my "widely available" (globally) criteria? Santé!

RougeAndBlanc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RougeAndBlanc said...

Hey Joe,
you are the only person I talk to regularly that recommends Pibran.
2 questions:
1) Pibran: what other vintage would you recommend, besides the obvious - 96/00/05?
2)Last year, I found another wine name Tour Pibran. Do you know if this is a 2nd wine of Pibran or is it another producer completely? It is really good, but I can't seem to find it after the 2000 vintage in US or CAN. Have you even heard of them?

Anonymous said...

Salut Joe,
I am lost. Please indicate at which stage my search went wrong.
Your Google profile states: Montréal, QC. So I looked for recommended French wines available there. It's very easy: I just typed Montréal, QC into the shop searcher at a guide to wine appreciation (my site).
The results show Baudry and Chamonard. For the latter the section shows a link to the distributor:
oenopole - 7044 bloomfield Montréal qc h3n 2g8 Canada - - bureau: 514 276 1818 - fax: 514 276 1515
Therefore if it's not available this month it should be usually available.

Now more generally I would like to answer your criterion of availability. I will reduce the scope to French wines only because I have not studied the availability of wines from other countries.
I have been looking for years for value French wines available globally -- that is in all rich areas. I failed. If the wine is interesting, the wine grower does not actually need to go to the trouble of building widespread distribution. The more interesting the wine is, the rarer it is -- often.
I have found two good compromises : Huet and Baudry. The wines of those estates are sold by the Société des Alcools du Québec and in a wide area of countries and states.
Huet has a problem for you Joe: they only produce whites.

Joe said...

Hi Andrew. (1) As you can see, I haven't posted any Pibran notes so I am not sure what others I have tasted - I have had the 00 and 03 so far. (2) The Tour Pibran is the second wine - I have not tasted that one.

Hi Félicien - just to be clear, there are NO distributors in Quebec per se - the SAQ is THE distributor - any names you see are typically "agents" - they try to convince the SAQ to stock their wine, and if successful they get a fee. They don't keep inventories or handle distribution. Baudry is available at SAQ and Chamonard is not - even if Oenopole is the "distributor", the SAQ may not stock it. As such I am not counting on the Chamonard being available. I have checked the major US retailers and it is not available.
Anyway, you raise a good question about "availability". What I tend to exclude in this very specific list are those only available at the winery, or those in limited production - there are many wonderful wines that should be on this list, but my readership is global so I want someone in Sydney/London/Singapore/New York/L.A. to be able to find the wine locally without too much difficulty. I travel a lot for business and generally visit the wine stores - I have never seen a Chamonard Morgon, so I suspect it is a small volume producer.
Once again, I hear you - I will try the Beaudry, and the Huet is not a problem, just for this very specific list. I look forward to trying both - Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the explanations. Chamonard will not be imported into the USA.
I confirm that Chamonard and Baudry have small productions.
In Sydney or Singapore I have found no French wines that would be of interest to me. Not yet.

Anonymous said...

Oops! At Wino-sapien there is an excellent list of interesting French wines available in Australia.
Woud somebody know of a wine blog based in Singapore?

Joe said...

Salut Félicien - Edward (Wino Sapien) is a great chronicler of all things vinuous. I have not yet found a Singapore wine blog, but I haven't been looking either. Please let me know if you do find one.

Barry said...

Red German!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Joe said...

German Communists, Barry? I don't understand...While I have made a leap of faith by suggesting my Burgundy selections are "available", I am not willing to go so far as recommend my readers fly to Germany to pick up a bottle of Spatburgunder - rather outside the price limit...