How should a pair of lucky newlyweds spend their first $500 on wine, with age-worthy bottles for anniversaries and special events in mind? Here's what four local experts suggest (with Pennsylvania codes listed in brackets):
The master sommelier for Savona restaurant suggests one case of a special wine, pegged to a year or region with personal significance that would be good either now or with more age, happily drunk anytime over the next 12 years ("A bottle for each anniversary!").
Here are some choices from recent vintages now available:
Cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley: Honig 2007, $33.99 (12819); or Justin Justification Paso Robles 2007, $39.99 (14077).
Syrah from Washington state: DeLille Doyenne Aix Red Mountain 2007, $31.99 (11887). Retail supplies are slim, but a case can be special ordered.
Sparkling wine: Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs California 2007, $37.59, special order required (506509).
Big intense Italian red: Bertani Amarone, Villa Arvedi Veneto 2005 (24243) or 2004, $39.99 (24652).
High-quality German riesling: J.J. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese, Mosel 2007, $49.99 (18098); the 2009 and 2010 vintages are also great.
Classic Tuscan red: Chianti Classico Riserva, Castello di Meleto, Tuscany 2005 (17071; $39.99).
Super Tuscan: Tenuta Sette Ponti Poggio al Lupo 2006, Tuscany, $39.99 (10922).
Classic French: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Paul Autard 2007, $39.99 (19443).
From his post at the Ardmore wine and spirits shop, Peters has cultivated a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable wine consultants in Pennsylvania's State Store system. His choices focus more exclusively on a half-dozen special bottles with different styles and solid aging potential.
Pol Roger Brut Chardonnay Champagne 1998, $61.49 (29547). Great from now through 10 years out, this elegant vintage Champagne has "birth of first child" written all over it.
Domaine Follin-Arbelet Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2006, $109.99 (20568). This gorgeous white Burgundy shows the greatness of chardonnay when it isn't over-oaked. Drink now through the next 10 years.
Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008, $45.99 (14097). Classic Sonoma pinot with rich blackberry fruit and spice, and good body, should be drunk within five to eight years.
Forman Napa Cabernet 2007, $74.99 (14376). Not as renowned as other big California cabs, but this limited-production gem is full of intense dark West Coast fruit and savory herbs, and able to be enjoyed in a couple of years (with a little decanting) or through 2020.
Dominus Estate Napa Meritage 2005, $129.99 (14510). Created by Christian Moueix, of Chateau Petrus fame, this highly rated cab blend has dark cherries, tobacco, truffles, and cream, best drunk now through the next eight years.
Chateau Calon-Segur 2006, $74.99 (19264). A high-class Bordeaux from Saint-Estèphe, but also technically a third-tier chateau, so it's a better value than some more famous names. Gurus predict this one will be ready anytime for two decades after 2014.
The former Striped Bass sommelier - who has become a nationally known wine educator, author, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board spokeswoman, and consultant - has chosen a mixed case at different price tiers to expose a wide variety of styles:
Four "go to" $20 wines meant for immediate drinking:
Pouilly-Fumé from Joseph Mellot, Le Troncsec 2008, $19.99 (24961). A single-vineyard Loire white, crisp and citrusy, that is a worthy alternative to its better-known neighbor, Sancerre.
Andriano Pinot Grigio 2009, $18.99 (17111). Much-maligned pinot grigio deserves to be rehabbed, especially those from Alto Adige, because Old says it's food-friendly and "just tastes good."
Felino Viña Cobos Malbec 2008, $19.99 (5121). Premium malbec, especially this Argentine project from Paul Hobbs, delivers quality comparable to a $30-plus Californian.
Taylor Fladgate "LBV" Port 2004, $19.99 (7175). For a dessert wine, especially to pair with dark chocolate or blue cheese, a deep ruby "late bottled vintage" port is a tremendous value.
Four bottles around $40, entering the realm of "serious" age-worthy wines, capable of 10 years or more in the cellar:
Ramey Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2008, $37.99 (13478). A rare California chard that delivers West Coast opulence and richness, but also balance for food.
Panther Creek Freedom Hill Pinot Noir 2007, $39.99 (14410). From one of the pioneers of Oregon's earthy, Euro-style pinot, this wine comes from one of its best single-vineyard designations.
J.J. Prüm Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2007, $39.99 (18122). A sweet-tart German Riesling, one of the best-aging wines around, "has to be on the list." "The sundial vineyard" from one of Mosel's greatest winemakers is a perennial favorite. The kabinett is drier than the equally spectacular spätlese, and capable of aging for decades.
CVNE Gran Reserva Viña Real 2006, $34.99 (26326). Well-aged by the producers prior to release, a good Spanish rioja like this one provides a sip of what mature wine should taste like.
Getting "spendy" for four special bottles:
Roederer Brut Premier, $49.99 (29460). Less famous than Roederer's super-luxe Cristal, but still lusciously rich thanks to extra-long aging on the yeasty lees. On a "budget," Old prefers a modest wine from a top producer to the top wine of a less ambitious vintner.
Marchesi de' Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2005, $49.99 (14768). One of the most age-worthy Italian reds, and more accessible than Barolo, Old says this Brunello "smells like nobility."
Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques Premier Cru 2006, $59.99 (16822). Red Burgundy is "the original fine wine" but also an acquired taste, so Old thinks the pinots from Gevrey-Chambertin are the best introduction, with enough meat on their bones for fullness but also an elegance and woodsy truffle character that is seductive.
Shafer "1.5" 2006 cabernet, $74.99 (15519). If you need one "Holy cow!" Napa cab, this intensely extracted wine, in only its fourth vintage from a premier producer best known for its merlot, is a good bet and fair value. Still needs a couple of years to mellow, but can age for up to 25.
The founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia is not a proponent of cellaring wines at home for the long term. Instead, he suggests a couple of cases of mixed price points and maturity horizons to keep a cellar drinkable from the present to 10 years out, at most.
Everyday wines around $10 and under for this year and next (buy 11 bottles):
Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel 2007, $7.49 (13096). An affordable introduction to fruit-forward Paso Robles.
Teusner Riebke Shiraz 2008, $9.99 (13044). Big, ripe jammy goodness, priced to drink now.
Wines for three to five years from now, about $20 a bottle (buy three of each). Many Californians, he said, mature best in this time frame:
Edward Sellers Cuvée des Cinq Paso Robles 2005, 18.99 (15639). Côtes du Rhône, California-style.
Cuvaison Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2006, $19.99 (18371). Awkward now, but softens beautifully within five years.
Wines for six to 10 years from now, about $40 a bottle (buy three of each). Wallace favors French wine for longer aging:
Domaine Raymond Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006, $39.99 (20547). Almost Burgundian in nuance, but with the complex gusto of the southern Rhône.