In Defense of Older Wines

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Photo by stewart/Flickr CC

While visiting the warehouse where we store our Pott Wine after they have been bottled and before shipping, I spied a group of wines on several shelves. These wines immediately struck me as odd, as they were mainly Cabernet Sauvignon from the mid- to late 1990's. Which is unusual in itself, since it seems to me that most lovers of Napa Valley wines practice ritualistic infanticide, drinking wines within the first five years of bottling. For some reason in Napa Valley people have abandoned older wines.

The lovers of the young wines want them to be made to peak early, to show a great deal of jammy fruit, richness, and, in the best example, supple texture with copious quantities of velvety tannins. Those that like older wines wait for another level of complexity, waiting for tannins to become more supple and for the aromas that are referred to as bottle bouquet to create what an old wine professor of mine referred provocatively to as the aroma of "sundried bed sheets."

I am a lover of older wines! Yes, a small part of this is nostalgia, a desire to taste the sun of a forgotten summer. However, great wines develop wonderful characteristics that makes aging wine well worth the wait. I think that the California wine industry is responsible for this change in our taste for older wines. We were constantly told to drink up so that we will buy and consume more wine, not to stock our cellars full of wonderful wines for the future. This is sadly neglecting one of the greatest things about great wine.

This should be one of the ways that we measure great wines: by its ability to age, by its ability to transform itself to transcend itself and become something totally different.

Do all wines age gracefully? No, not all wines are created equally. This should be one of the ways that we measure great wines: by its ability to age, by its ability to transform itself to transcend itself and become something totally different. I will never forget how a 1947 Château Pétrus tasted in 2006 or a 1949 J.J. Prum Bernauslese tasted in 2005. These wines became something incredible, more incredible than what they were, more complex than wines made from the same grapes in more recent vintages.

I was told that the wines that I was looking at in the warehouse were bought by a woman who had a great idea to buy the great wines of the mid-1990s, age them, and sell them when they were ready to drink. Even as recently as 1997, these wines were made before the advent of "California cult wines". How short our memories, these selections: 1997 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Fay Vineyard's Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 1994 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, at the time were icons in the world of Napa Valley Wines. Now new names have come along, names like Colgin, Harlan, Hundred Acre, Abreu, and Sloan in the last ten years eclipsed these wines at the top of pecking order.

In ten more years what will the top wines in Napa Valley look like? Will the fickle consumer create a whole new group of "cult wines," or will we grow tired of their elevated prices, sweet tannins, and monolithic density?

If I were asked today what Napa Valley wines I would buy to drink in ten year's I would have a few ideas. My short list would include Fisher Lamb Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Kongsgaard Syrah from the amazing Hudson Vineyards, Togni Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, O'Shaughnessy Progeny Vineyard Mt. Veeder, and any number of the well known wines from the Stagecoach Vineyard, as well as my Brix Cabernet Sauvignon, Incubo Mt. Veeder, and Kaliholmanok from Pott Wine.

Although they drink brilliantly now, these wines are made to age. They may not be the most popular, but you will be happy to have them in ten year's time. They will provide ideal memories of the that summer in 2007 or 2008 when you were younger and maybe life was a little carefree.