Like bridge and golf, a wine cellar is addictive. Lay down a case or two and before you can say "cellar notebook," you're hooked. The real game, the very sport of cellaring, is played with red wines. A fine white can be drunk early (inadvisable, but possible) whereas a fine red is downright unpleasant if drunk too young.
As you'd expect, most of the top quality reds are in the expensive range, over $15 a bottle. They are also long-termers, needing more than five years to mature. Since I wouldn't go without red wine while waiting for my theoretical cellar to come of age, I'd also need a rack of early maturing and already mature wines.
There are many suitable American and imported candidates. In light to medium weights, I'd like a cabernet franc and merlot from Italy's northeast, perhaps from Livio Felluga, and a crozes-hermitage from the Rhone, Domaine Pradelle and Vidal-Fleury being two. The 1979 vintage in Bordeaux was pleasant and early maturing; among the crus bourgeois, the wines of Greysac, Fourcas Hosten, Phelan Segur and Soutard (St. Emilion) will justify their current $8 in a few years time.
As for ready-to-drink, fuller bodied wines, thank goodness for the reserve wines of Spain and Portugal.
To buy a bordeaux first growth in a vintage like 1978 is not really playing the game. Anybody can win. All you need is money. There's more sport in picking winners from other growths and in less-than-perfect years. In the late '70s, several Medoc chateaux were consistently good. They've scored again with the '79s, available now, and the '81s, being sold as futures: La Lagune, Pichon Lalande, Leoville LasCases and Ducru Beaucaillou. The '79s are on sales for $15 to $18. In 1979, wines of Pomerol and St. Emilion were often more interesting than those of the Medoc, and I'd add La Conseillante, Pavie, Certan le May and La Fleur Petrus.
Despite the publicity, few easterners are laying down California cabernets. They'll last five years all right, but their full life span is still a matter of guesswork. Will the finer '78s develop into the late '80s? Probably. The '79s are less uniformly successful and could be better bets for the medium term. Among the '79s, I'd follow William Hill, Tudal, Durney, Shown & Sons and Villa Mt. Eden.
For burgundies, a battle plan may be more appropriate than a game plan. Tiptoeing through the minefields of the Cote d'Or, I'd put my money on a few grower-producers. In the Cote de Nuits: Armand Rousseau, Clair-Dau, Henri Gouges and Bertagna. In the Cote be Beaune: Mongeard-Mugneret, Tollot-Beaut, Prince de Merode, Felix Clerget. I'd trust a handful of shippers, including Joseph Drouhin, Prosper Maufoux and Remoissenet. And I'd take the advice of a reliable retailer.
The body and richness often missing from burgundies can be found in the bigger rhones. And they're also ingredients in Italy's big reds: barolo and barbaresco from the Piedmont (Gaja, Conterno, Ceretto, Prunotto) and brunello di Montalcino (Biondi-Santi, Barbi, Lisini). Given the overall quality of both '78 and '79 and the generally moderate prices, they'd be quickly tucked away into my cellar.
There's no quarrel about vintage port. If you like it, you lay it down. I'd settle for the excellent '77s (Croft, Graham, Warre and Dow for $16 and Taylor for $22) -- and settle down for a long wait.