It’s bonus season, Wall Street. Whether or not you’re among the bankers grumbling about your take this year (and whether or not the cash has hit your account yet), you’ve certainly already spent your tidy sum down the back of a napkin: $X to your emergency fund, perhaps, plus $Y toward a home and $Z to blow on something really indulgent.
You’ve even earmarked a portion of your bonus to go toward replenishing your wine stocks this year, though the “what to buy” part is still a big question mark for you.
It shouldn’t be—in a way, you’ve already made out your shopping list. Your back-of-napkin bonus budget speaks volumes about your own priorities and goals. Here’s how you can use that same list to guide you at the wine shop.
1. Build up your “rainy day” fund.
First, stockpile your own household’s wine staples: Cabernet from your favorite winery, a few bottles of the Prosecco you always serve when people come for brunch, the sherry that goes into your family’s famous croquettes. You now have household basics covered come hell, job loss or surprise visitors.
2. Invest in your retirement.
You’ve seen commercials about how $40 a month and a few decades of compound interest can set you up for a comfortable retirement; with the same moderate investment and patience you will also have a pretty respectable cellar in your later years. Ignore chatter about cult bottles and buy a half case of “mutual fund” wines, dependable brands with decades-long track records, every year. Forget you have them until at least 2030. Be sure to leave the price tags on the bottles—Future You will be tickled by your return on investment. Some good bets are:
Robert Mondavi 2011 To Kalon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville ($145) A young whippersnapper of a Cab now with black plum and cherry fruit at its core, edged in toasty oak, cigar and earth flavors. If you are patient enough to buy and hold, this wine will pay big dividends in 10–15 years.
Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm 2013 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese ($54) This German producer’s wines are built for the long haul. On the palate, there’s a light honeyed sweetness first thing, moving on to petrol, white peach and mineral flavors, and a snap of citrus zest on the long finish. This is terrific Riesling; your grandkids will think so, too. 7.5% alcohol.
3. Commune with nature
For the outdoor types, this might mean a trip to Yellowstone National Park. For wine lovers, it means something else altogether.
Buying wines based on vintage alone is tricky business, but when grapegrowers, winemakers, critics, and your favorite retailer are all hailing a region’s recent vintage as excellent, pay attention. What they mean is, this is what this place and grape are capable of. Some top vintages that are on shelves now include 2010 Barolo and Barbaresco, 2010 Bordeaux, and 2012 California Cabernets. Ask your retailer about others.
Michele Chiarlo 2010 Cerequio Barolo ($107) A beautiful, complex wine that changes every time you go back to it. Aromas and flavors run the gamut from clove and Mexican cinnamon to brick dust, roasted meat, cassis, raspberry and anise, and grow fuller and darker with air. The feel is lush and layered; surges with bitter chocolate, iron and smoke flavors on the finish. Just delicious.
GAJA 2010 Barbaresco ($225) A strong but feminine Barbaresco: well perfumed (kirsch/cherry compote, dried spice, wheat flour) and voluptuous, with layers of pure raspberry and plum fruit. Her approachability ebbs and flows; tannins feel dusty and smooth one minute, and tighten up the next. Alluring now but will benefit from 4+ more years in the cellar.
Château de Pez 2010 Saint-Estèphe ($59) This wine is 52.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the balance Merlot. Brambly, blackberry-patch aromas. Has terrific presence on the midpalate. Clear, pure ripe blackberry and black plum fruit and smoky, creamy accents persist through the long finish. Drink now–2025.
Conn Creek 2012 Anthology Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($55) Contains fruit from 14 Napa subappellations, hence the “Anthology” designation. Has smooth tannins along with juicy blackberry and plum fruit edged in black peppery, briary notes. A solid, juicy Cab that is enjoyable now.
4. Invest in a second home.
We each have our own primary residence at the wine shop—the comfortable aisle that’s home to our favorite grape variety made in our favorite appellation. Now go ask your wine guy where else in the world your favorite variety is grown, and set up camp in that new place. For example, Burgundy lovers probably know that they can look to Oregon as an alternate source for terrific Pinot Noir. But have you Rhône lovers tried Oregon Syrah?
Antica Terra 2012 Ceras Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($75) One of three delicious Pinots from boutique producer Antica Terra, each with its own distinct personality. The Ceras is the most Old World-styled of the bunch, with pencil lead, rosemary, cedar and black cherry notes throughout. It’s sexy and nuanced, with lovely structure and texture.
Quady North 2011 4-2,A Syrah Rogue Valley ($25) Syrah from Southern Oregon? Yes, and it’s worth searching out. It’s subtle, a moderate 13% alcohol, with black pepper, bread flour, rose and ginger aromas. Tart and tangy mixed plums and black cherry fruit is clear and crisp on the palate. Its size and even some of its flavors might even remind you of Pinot.
5. Save for important personal milestones.
Maybe you’re celebrating a milestone birthday this year, or 2015 marks your silver wedding anniversary, or eight years of being cancer-free. Commemorate personal milestones that are on your horizon by seeking out vintage-designated wines from those special years. Where possible seek out currently available bottlings, like the two here, that are aged in the houses’ caves and released when the wineries determine they’ve reached their peak.
Taylor Fladgate 1965 Very Old Limited Edition Single Harvest Port ($300) Outstanding. If ever you needed proof that 50 is not over the hill, this is it. Still very potent, the 1965 penetrates the nose and mouth with buttered toast, honey, roasted nut and peat notes that melt into the throat and linger for a minute or two afterward.
Dom Pérignon 1998 P2 Champagne ($379) Dom Pérignon’s P2 is Dom that remains in the house’s cave and is rereleased when it reaches its second plénitude, or “window of expression.” The 1998 is so texturally complex; it’s a mouthfilling mille-fuille of rich cream, rock, dust and golden apple flavors. Finishes smooth and long, with vibrant acidity through the end.
If you have children who are still minors, consider laying down bottles from their birth years. A case of ageworthy birthyear wine is an amazing gift for weddings, 21st birthdays and college graduations.
6. Go somewhere you’ve never gone before.
Next, buy a wine that’s made of a grape variety that you’ve never had from a place you’ve never been. If you can’t pronounce it, all the better. Those who are new to wine might look to Gewürztraminer or Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo). If you’re a more seasoned wine drinker, go find something like Trepat or Malagousia. Now you’ll have something on hand that will stump your brother, who fancies himself a wine expert, when he comes over for dinner.
Numanthia 2011 Termanthia Toro DO ($215) Though it’s made from fruit from 120-year-old pre-phylloxera vines, this delicious, dark 100% Tinta de Toro has a modern feel that will appeal equally to fans of New World and Old World wines. Sexy and smoky on the nose, with layers of blackberry, blueberry, smoke and mocha through the long finish. Its texture is like crushed gravel and it’s built like a brick house, so give these tannins some time. Drink 2020+. 5,000 bottles produced.
Josep Foraster 2012 Trepat Conca de Barberà DO ($24) Somewhere between rosé and Beaujolais on the color spectrum, this Spanish variety yields a lighter-bodied wine with cranberry, herb and mineral flavors. It’s the kind of red that would be good lightly chilled, or in tinto de veranos and other wine cocktails.
7. Show the distant relations and Jan Bradys in the family a little love.
Sometimes we get so worked up over a winery’s best-known bottling that we don’t bother getting acquainted with other members of the family. “Grange, Grange, Grange” is the “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” of Aussie wine, but I have a soft spot for St. Henri, one of the younger Penfolds brothers. Dick Shea’s lineup of Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs is each prettier than the next, but his Chardonnay is the real Cinderella.
Shea Wine Cellars 2012 Shea Vineyard Chardonnay Willamette Valley ($30) This blend of Dijon clones 76 and 96 has great acidity and will knock the socks off of fans of crisp, crystalline Chardonnays. It has a minerally spine, with accents of fresh hay, lime and orange zest throughout. The mouthfeel is just creamy enough, with oak/nut nuances on the long finish. More, please.
Penfolds 2011 St. Henri Shiraz South Australia ($99) St. Henri is aged in old oak vats, which means that you’re getting more pure Shiraz (and very little oak) flavor. It’s full on the palate with cool blueberry and blackberry flavors and tight, textured tannins. Bittersweet cocoa notes on the long finish.
If you’ve had two or three wines from a single winery that you love, commit to the family and join their wine club. You’ll get discounts, and have first dibs on their limited-production bottlings.
8: Allow yourself one big splurge.
With the average Wall Street bonus at $172,860 in 2014, a single bottle of wine that costs a few hundred (or thousand) dollars isn’t completely out of bounds. So go ahead, buy one bottle (this isn’t the VIP room, superstar) of whatever wine it is that you covet: the DRC Échézeaux, gold-plated jeroboam of your favorite Champagne, or Port that dates back to the Emancipation Proclamation.
Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port ($3,700) For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime wine. It’s tactile, all-senses, seamless. Under penetrating aromas of forest floor are notes of mocha, whipped cream, coffee, clove, Grand Marnier. Viscous and mouthfilling, with toffee, coffee, nut, and caramel on the palate. Lingers long in the throat. Presented in an Italian crystal decanter. Extraordinary.
This weekend, you’re going to invite some friends over and put your covetousness to an end. Because you know what story is more fun to tell than the story about how you bought an obscenely expensive bottle of wine?
The story about how you drank it.
Daryna Tobey lives in New York and has been writing about wine since 2001.
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