CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Older California reds emerge from cellar in vigorous prime
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Rummaging around in my wine cellar, I came upon a few cases I’d put back years ago and simply forgot about. These were various reds from Napa and Sonoma, the heartland of California wine production, and they collectively offered something bordering on revelation: the profound character and age-worthiness of wines we tend to value for their immediate pleasures.
I suspect that when most collectors buy classified Bordeaux wines, they do so with the intention of cellaring them for five or ten years or longer. But when the purchase is, say, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, chances are the intention is to drink it soon, in its youth and freshness, anyway within a couple of years.
Indeed, I wonder how often California wine enthusiasts have experienced their favorite reds with significant maturity on them, after a decade or more of aging. The West Coast wines I stumbled upon in my own cellar – a slew of mostly single bottles – ranged in vintage from 1998 to 2001, and what they revealed over a stretch of catch-up tastings was eye-opening: consistent freshness and vibrancy, full body and complex flavors and the impression of a still-rising arc of maturation.
Here’s a sampler of these happy surprises from yesteryear. The youngest wine was 15 years old. For perspective, in each instance I’ve cited the typical price of the same wine in the producer’s most recent vintage.
- Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir 2001 Carneros. While the color had evolved toward brick-red, the nose gave off lively cherry notes and the flavor blend offered up fetching hints of dried strawberries with traces of vanilla. At 15 years from vintage, this Pinot Noir remained robust and engaging, a ready complement to savory summer picnics. (Price of Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir 2013 Carneros: $44)
- Lewis Cellars Syrah 2000 Napa Valley. Here was a mouth-watering treat, a mature Syrah redolent of black fruit, tar, pepper and blueberry. What’s more, this richly textured 2000 Syrah showed no signs of peaking, thanks in part to a solid acid frame and luscious ripe tannins. (Price of Lewis Cellars Syrah 2013 Napa Valley: $75)
- Quintessa Rutherford Napa Valley Red Wine 1998. The modest moniker “red wine” utterly belies the beauty of the one and only cuvée produced each year at Quintessa. Assembled from unspecified grapes (or proportions) drawn from Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, Quintessa’s Red aspires to “express the uniqueness of the estate rather than specific varietal characteristics.” The delicious 1998 proved to be a patrician wine – smooth, opulent, heady, and still exuding youth. (Projected price of the Quintessa Rutherford Napa Valley Red Wine 2013, scheduled for release in September: $180)
- Lokoya Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Mount Veeder Napa Valley. In my household we refer to wines of this class as “magnum wines,” meaning we really wish the bottle were a magnum. The magnificent Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon was a gift, and its opening a peak moment in the waning spring. At 15 years, the wine’s elegant flavor profile of blackberry, plum, earth and smoke – all mounted on a subtle acid frame – seemed ageless. (Price of the Lokoya Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Mount Veeder Napa Valley: $375)
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