Buy and Cellar

Northwest wines to keep for 10 years or more

Story by Andy Perdue
Photography by Hank Drew

In the Old World, top-tier reds are expected to be aged a decade or more. Great Bordeaux often are so tightly wound, they’re just becoming drinkable in 10 years. In New World wine regions such as the West Coast however, grapes tend to be picked riper and flavors are plush sooner.

Aging wines can be tricky; there’s a fine line between sublime and over the hill. Select wines with balanced fruit, acidity and (in reds) tannin to give wines a better chance of aging gracefully. Avoid high-alcohol monsters or vintages whose weather patterns make cellaring a precarious proposition. For example, 2003 was an extremely hot year in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and many of the resulting wines were California-like with jammy fruit, blistering alcohol and little of the subtlety typical of Oregon pinot noirs. In Washington, while 1998 was hailed as a great vintage at the time, those reds are generally falling apart eight years later. Meanwhile, the more balanced 1999s are now becoming really interesting.

Successfully aging wine means proper conditions. Your best bet is a climate-controlled cellar. If you have a basement that stays cool year-round, that’s a good option. If your home has central air, a closet can serve you well. Or you can rent space from one of several wine storage facilities. Avoid garages and the top of your refrigerator.
Here are a few Northwest wines that should taste delicious in 2016. For some real fun, buy a case and open one bottle each year. Take careful notes so you can see how the wine progresses.

Woodward Canyon Winery 2002 Old Vines cabernet sauvignon
Columbia Valley, $75

Rick Small has been making cellar-worthy wines since 1981. A few years ago, I tasted through 19 years of the Old Vines cabs. The best of the bunch was from 1983, so Small proved his wines stand up well to the ravages of time. This red will likely be in the midst of its prime in 2016.

Three Rivers Winery 2003 Champoux Vineyard cabernet sauvignon
Columbia Valley, $50

Winemaker Holly Turner uses grapes from what arguably is the No. 1 or No. 2 vineyard in Washington. Champoux (pronounced “shampoo”) is high in the Horse Heaven Hills south of Prosser. Expect this big red to be peaking in a decade.

FidÈlitas Wines 2002 Optu
Columbia Valley, $40

Owner/winemaker Charlie Hoppes is closing in on his 20th harvest in Washington, and he knows every row of every worthy vineyard in the state. This Bordeaux-style red tends to be plush and approachable upon release but still has the backbone of acidity and tannin to help it go the distance.

Elk Cove Vineyards 2004 Windhill pinot noir
Willamette Valley, $38

The Campbell family has been crafting balanced, age-worthy wines since the mid-1970s. This elegant single-vineyard pinot noir is beautiful now and has the fruit and balance to be very interesting in 10 years.

Barnard Griffin 2004 semillon
Columbia Valley, $14

Most of the time, we don’t think of white wines as age-worthy, but semillon is an exception. One of two noble white grapes of Bordeaux (along with sauvignon blanc), semillon only gets more interesting with time. This offering from one of Washington’s biggest family owned wineries is tasty now and should be magnificent at age 12.