When most people think about aging and cellaring wines, their minds immediately gravitate towards reds. And with good reason; in large part, the illustrious red wines made in places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, Rioja and Napa, owe at least a portion of their often hefty price tags to their ability to improve and evolve in the cellar over years, sometimes even decades.
Generally, white wines seem to make up a much smaller percentage of the wine collecting market. And those that do – whites hailing from Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, Germany’s Mosel Valley or some California Chardonnays grown on cooler coastal sites – tend to fetch equally lofty prices.
Some of the longest living wines produced around the globe are made from white grapes – and the glories of well-chosen and aged whites offer some of the most delicious and profound wine experiences you’ll ever have the chance to discover.
In their youth, many whites offer up dazzling and enticing pure fruit flavours, amazing freshness can be oh-so easy to sit, sip and savour over an afternoon on a sunny patio. But when well-selected and properly aged, white wines can go from gorgeous and gulp-able to complex, savoury and food-friendly.
And now for the best news… because white wines have been somewhat overlooked by many wine collectors, there remain some amazing value choices out there that have the potential to evolve and improve, in some cases for a decade or more.
Here is my list of 6 white wines you might not think to age – but should:
#1. Godello from Valdeorras & Bierzo – Spain
Godello is a grape grown in rather small quantities – most notably in two neighbouring districts in northwestern Spain, called Valdeorras and Bierzo. Located about 200km east (inland from the famous Albarino wines of Galicia), Valdeorras and Bierzo are what you’d call “trendy up-and-comers” in the world of quality wine (with wines like this one leading the charge). Godello is a local grape not widely grown outside of these two regions, but has always kind of reminded me of Spain’s answer to white Burgundy.
Barrel aged Godello from these regions will evolve in the cellar, from ripe fresh tropical fruit flavours towards more rich and spicy expressions confit’d fruit – like apple, pear and pineapple. Aged Godello from Valdeorras and Bierzo is the perfect choice to pair with a slow roasted shoulder of pork or rich seafood dishes like scallops with brown butter. Delicious examples can be purchased for $20-$35 per bottle and have the potential to improve in the cellar for 5-10 years.
#2. Languedoc Whites – France
If I were to have included wines from Languedoc (red or white!) on this list 10 or 15 years ago, many people with even a bit of wine knowledge would have probably stopped reading. But the last decade and half have seen a remarkable quality revolution in this part of Southern France – and I’ve got news for you – it ain’t just with their red wines! On a recent product hunting trip through the Mediterranean regions of France and Spain, I was shocked at the quality (and aging potential) of some white wines I tasted in the Languedoc (this is one of the best I’ve tasted). The most interesting whites came from the southern and western reaches of the Languedoc as you approach the border of the neighbouring Roussillon appellation.
The first name to watch for on labels? La Clape. Sitting on the Mediterranean coast, this is a place where a grape called Bourboulenc is producing some exciting barrel aged white wines. A thick skinned grape that is well adapted to the coastal climate, a local winegrower described it to me as a sort of “white Mourvedre”; this is a serious white wine with an amazing, almost saline minerality. Examples of La Clape whites worth laying down in the cellar can be purchased for $17-$30 per bottle and have the potential to improve in the cellar for 10-15 years.
Moving inland from the Mediterranean coast and into the more rugged mountainous terrain, we come upon village of Fitou, which is surrounded by micro-plots of some seriously old vines, including parcels of Grenache Gris & Muscat. The whites here remind me a bit of the great whites of Chateauneuf du Pape, at a fraction of the price. You can get your hands on age-worthy bottlings for $25-$40 per bottle with a cellaring window of 5-10 years.
#3. Barrel Aged White Rioja – Spain
The Rioja is located pretty much in the dead centre of northern Spain – and while the iconic red wines made in this region certainly wouldn’t appear on any sort of top “discovery” list, the white wines made here, from a grape called Viura, often fly under the radar. Much like the reds of Rioja, these Viura-based whites see extensive aging in barrel and can be a bit tough to understand, appreciate or enjoy when young. That said, with some time in the cellar, you’ll discover that these might just be the most age-able white wines made anywhere on earth.
Low yields, amazing structure and acidity, high altitude vineyards and extended barrel aging are the perfect ingredient list to produce these white wines, that will gracefully age for decades. When mature, white Rioja takes on an electrifying deep golden colour, and offers up an incomparable complex series of aromas from dried fruit, to aromatic spices, to savoury meat, leather, earth and coffee (here’s an example of one of the best!).
Almost as diverse as the sensory experience of aged Rioja itself, are the food pairing possibilities. Any dishes featuring mushrooms, asparagus, lobster, white fish, chicken or pork are naturals, but I suppose I am a bit of a traditionalist and enjoy aged white Rioja the most alongside amazing Spanish cured ham.
White Rioja for the cellar can be purchased for $25-$50 per bottle, and has the potential to evolve and improve in the cellar for 10-30 years, and in some cases much, much longer.
#4. Clare Valley Riesling – Australia
So, when most of us start thinking of Aussie wines our minds immediately gravitate towards reds – particularly Shiraz. And if I were to ask you to think about Aussie whites, you’d probably come back with Chardonnay. With all that in mind, it might come as a surprise to many that Australia is home to one of the great Riesling terroirs you’ll find anywhere in the world about 100km north of the City of Adelaide in a place called Clare Valley.
Due to its relatively high altitude, the Clare Valley offers up a cooler climate perfectly suited to the production of high quality age-worth Rieslings – and Riesling as a varietal offers some of the longest aging potential and amazing value of any white wines. Young Rieslings can be delicious and refreshing and clean – but if you have the patience to give it some time in the cellar, the rewards are worth the wait (and here’s a fabulous producer to watch for!).
As Riesling ages, it tends to evolve texturally, developing added layers of richness and viscosity making it an even better partner alongside fine food. Rieslings that begin their life somewhat off-dry tend to become more dry as they age and their natural acidity also tends to trend downwards with time in the cellar. Aged Rieslings become a perfect partner next to Indian or Asian food; I absolutely adore wines like this served with dishes offering up a bit of heat and spice.
Now for the best news of all – you can get your hands on delicious expressions of Riesling that are well suited to a bit of aging for $20-$30 per bottle, many of which will evolve and improve gracefully for 10-20 years, sometimes longer. In terms of pennies per year of aging potential, you’ve got to love this wine math!
#5. Chablis – France
What are the characteristics in a white wine that make it a good candidate for aging? #1 on my list is good acidity and structure. So, it should come as no surprise that the coolest, northernmost portion of Burgundy (a region producing some of the most age-worthy and widely collected white wines on earth) produces white wines with some serious aging potential.
Just like the famous Cote d’Or whites grown further south in the heart of Burgundy, the white wines of Chablis are also made from Chardonnay. The wines of Chablis tend to rely a bit less on oak aging than their counterparts in Burgundy, but increasingly (and particularly with the top cuvees), the use of some oak barrels for fermentation and/or aging is a stylistic choice made by individual producers.
Given that Chablis in situated near the northern limits for quality wine production, you should seek out wines produced at lower yields (fewer grapes taken from each vine) resulting in better flavour concentration and ripeness – two attributes that increase a wines longevity. An easy way to ensure you’re getting wines made from lower yields in to look for “Premier (1er) Cru” and “Grand Cru” bottlings – references which are governed by the French classification system and guarantee lower yields. Examples of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis are available for $35-$70 per bottle will continue to evolve and improve with cellaring over a window of 10-20 years, or longer.