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Aging Cabernet Sauvignon



When I was a wine critic, I used to say that nobody really knows how these opulent Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons will age, because the world had never seen wines quite like them (in ripeness, in fruity phenolic richness, in tannic quality, in alcohol level, in softness), and so there was no evidence upon which to base any conclusions.

Granted, I played the prediction game—when you’re a wine critic, you have to, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon. But I was never terribly comfortable saying that such-and-such a wine would be better fifteen or twenty years down the road, and so, by the early 2000s, I began shortening my window of ageability. Instead of advising (as some other critics did) to hold that Cab until 2027 or some equally far-off date in the future, I became considerably more guarded; my window tightened to maybe eight years or a little bit longer. This wasn’t just because of some intellectual hedging of bets; it was also because of my own experiences in pulling older Cabs from my cellar and finding that they hadn’t age well.

So it was pleasing to read the comment of Michael Weis, Groth’s winemaker since 1994, that “We don’t know how these wines will age.” That’s a frank statement and Weis is to be commended. It was in an article by Laurie Daniel, of the San Jose Mercury News, whose experiences apparently match mine, for she wrote: “I’ve found that some of the riper Napa Cabs from other producers start to fade after just a few years.”

We’ll never conclusively resolve this question of “To age or not to age,” but a little objectivity is helpful. The concept of aging wine, especially in Bordeaux, arose because until fairly recently viticulture and enology were simply not advanced enough to tame the tannins that Cabernet Sauvignon (and other red Bordeaux variety) grapes can imbue in the wines. Through time and experimentation, people discovered that aging the wines in a proper cellar—cool, damp and dark—allowed the tannins to precipitate out, as sediment, which is why the modern wine bottle evolved to include the “punt” at the bottom.

Well, aging Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon became an idée fixe in the minds, first, of tastemakers (merchants, writers, collectors) and from them it migrated into the minds of the average consumer. I’ve always thought it remarkable and odd how many strange conceptions the average wine drinker has about aging wine. No more than one or two percent of the world’s wines ever “need” aging to begin with (whatever “need” means), but I’d wager that most people think that any wine will improve if you age it.

With these big, lush and luscious Cabernets that California is now making, we really have to abandon the pretense that Cab needs age. But wait, there’s more! I’ll go one step further and say we have to abandon the notion that, if a Cab isn’t ageable, it somehow occupies a lower rung on the ladder of nobility. This is a mistake commonly arrived at by a kind of intellectual default: One starts the thinking process with old-fashioned ideas about ageability that are no longer relevant to our times. Then one holds onto those ideas despite the fact that they don’t conform to reality—and winds up blaming the wine for not being ageable in line with one’s conceptions, instead of blaming himself for applying anachronistic thinking to our modern times.

Anyway, welcome to my brain: This is the kind of stuff I think about. Have a great weekend!

  1. Bill Haydon says:

    Your analysis is grounded in a belief that Bordeaux was aged solely to let the tannins soften. While that was certainly a factor, it was only one side of the coin as the changes in bouquet and flavor that accompany long term aging of Bordeaux (or Barolo or Rioja) are both fundamental and profound. That the current hedonistic fruitbomb style of winemaking dominant in Napa is incapable of developing these nuances and complexities is that style’s great flaw ranking right up there with an inability to gracefully accompany a dish more subtle than Fred Flintstone’s Brontosaurus burger. If a Cabernet can not age long enough to develop these nuances, it is inherently an inferior example of the grape, and no futile attempts to move the goalposts of what constitutes truly great Cabernet Sauvignon based wines will change that.

    Having tasted 68 and 74 Martha’s Vineyard, I do believe that Napa is capable of making Cabernet that can evolve and age beautifully. That they’ve overwhelmingly chosen not to do so over the last two decades is their own conscious business decision and has led to their current fall from grace and the mocking monikers of “ego juice” “cocktail wine” and “leisure suit wine.” Change your style or deal with the fallout, Napa. Don’t, however, arrogantly sit in your bubble and profess to dictate changes to the definition of great Cabernet Sauvignon simply because you’ve given up on trying to make the real thing.

  2. It pains me to admit that I agree with Mr. Haydon–at least in part.

    The wonder of grapes like Cabernet is not found only in the depth and range they exhibit as young wines, but also in the majesty they develop over time. It is that majesty that made me interested in starting my wine cellar in the first place and makes me glad to have a large bunch of older wines now upon which I can draw as the occasion permits.

    Still, Mr. Haydon does get it wrong in one way. He misses the obvious truth that the deep and complex flavors of young Cabernet are, in and of themselves, wondrous to behold. Those great young Cabs, with their managed tannins, do make very fine accompaniments to many fancy foods.

    And to suggest that a young Cabernet can have no nuance is so silly as to make even his well-taken comments here as to easily dismissed because they wind up too simplistic, formulaic and polemic.

    There is one other aspect of the “ageworthy debate” that deserves exploration. The worth ascribed to Cabernet Sauvignon is clearly based on supply and demand. On that, we should all agree. But some of the demand for Cabernet is based on what it has accomplished in the cellar and the ethereal possibilites it offers even while having the sturdiness to serve alongside sturdy and rich dishes.

    I find it a bit strange that Cabernets without long-aging, and thus ethereal, possibilities can still command prices based on the grandeur that age can bring.

    Not sure I have as clear in this so let me try one more time: young Cabernets with depth, richness, range are not disasters and do make some of the best reds we can drink young with certain foods. That makes them successful, but in a different model.

    I don’t know about Mr. Hayden, but I do drink young wines on an every day basis, not thirty year old rarities from my cellar. And there is everything right about young wines that can satisfy in those settings. He has pooh-poohed, or even denigrated that aspect of Cabernet Sauvignon.

  3. Dusty Gillson says:

    I think the term “need age” means different things to different people. While I certainly won’t soapbox again and again about how crappy Napa is ala Mr. Haydon, I will say that among the very best wines I’ve ever had were 70’s Diamond Creeks and 80’s Monte Bellos. These wines were an altogether different creature than they were when they were young, regardless of how delicious they were at 4-6 years on. All of the Cabernet in my cellar is there because of the potential to take on those secondary and tertiary characteristics that have been the base of so many of my epiphany wines.

  4. Make the Real Thing? That’s confounding in itself.

    To me, this “brain-child” of Steve’s is the harbinger of “Road to New Revelation & Revolution”. I trust his aptitude for the assertion but still hold blurred vision in how RP or WS or ST would tinker with that line on aging prediction. What’s the connection between Steve and WE UnReserved Hosted by S Heimoff? Speaking for myself, I wish Steve was still the CA wine critic.

  5. Dear Susan Wu, that’s very kind of you. But no thanks! It was time to move on to this next chapter in my professional life.

  6. Interesting reference to Bordeaux aging that BH makes. Did the Bordelais age their CS-based wines to bring out the nuances, or were the nuances discovered only after enough time elapsed to make the wines drinkable?

    I’d also note a couple of his other points: California Cabernet is not just Napa. Bill, you seem very willing to allude to the wealth of winemaking regions and offerings from Europe, but don’t seem to have had the desire or opportunity to expand your CA horizons. Come out and see me. Finally, I’d say even a cursory tasting through Cabernet in barrel or newly released will show dramatic differences, many of them food-friendly and charming. Aged wines can bring one to wonderful places, no doubt. They are not the only wonderful places on wine’s map, however.

    Steven Mirassou
    Winemaker | Proprietor
    Lineage | Livermore Valley

  7. Not addressed in these debates: do Americans even have the luxury of a dedicated space at home to store wines properly for longer-term/long-term bottle aging?

    A case of wine is a space-hogging (near) cube. Stack a few up and you have now taken over your walk-in closet or “free area” in your garage.

    (Aside: do apartment or condo or town house urban dwellers even have walk-in closets or garages?)

    And then there is the question of how long to “age” a bottle of wine.

    Silver Oaks solved that challenge for consumers through extra aging time before release. It is “good-to-go” upon hitting the store shelf or restaurant wine list.

    A quote from Andrea Immer Robinson, Master Sommelier — quoting her mentor Kevin Zraly:

    “The English drink their wines too old, because they like to impress people by showing them all the dusty old bottles in their cellars. The French drink their wines too young because they’re afraid the Socialist government will take them away. And Americans drink their wine at just the right time — because they don’t know any better!”

  8. Bill Haydon says:

    I agree with Charlie about finding enjoyment in the lushly layered fruit of young red wines. The problem is that is not what I–and an increasing number of consumers–pays 75, 85 or 185 dollars a bottle for. I had a wine with some braised boar shoulder on Wednesday that fit Charlie’s description precisely: deep and complex with velvety lush fruit. It was a $40 (wine list price) bottle of Montepulciano. Why should I buy a Napa Cab to get that when I can get it from a $20 bottle of artisan produced Montepulciano, Bierzo, Mendoza Malbec or even Paso Robles Zin–and lose the over-oaking in the process.

    Every great red wine producing region in the world is known for wines that improve and gain nuance with aging. While they may not all age for the same length of time as great Bordeaux, their top producers and sites will all age for a considerable amount of time. Alongside Bordeaux, I would put forth that the list includes Burgundy, CdP, Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Chianti Classico. These are the regions to which Napa likes to consider itself a peer if not a superior.

    Steve brought up a very good point. It just led him to asking the wrong question. If Napa (and top tier Cali Cab in general) can not age and falls apart after only a few years in bottle, the question is not whether we should revisit what constitutes great red wine and a great red wine region. Rather, we should be asking whether Napa Valley should be included on that list.

  9. Bill,

    From your perspective, how long should a well-made bottle of red wine bottle age?

    By which I mean: it improves from the “tincture of time” before hitting a plateau.

    And from your perspective, how long should a well-made bottle of red wine stay at that plateau before beginning its fade?

    This debate about aging wine could be an example of folks speaking past each other, rather than to each other, because they haven’t defined their terms and expectations.

    Robert Parker stated (1989 interview with Wine Times, later to be rebranded as Wine Enthusiast) that Beaujolais doesn’t improve with bottle age — so his maximum awarded score was 90 points (garnering no “bonus points” for longevity and improving in the bottle).

    Even Parker has come around and revised his thinking — and scoring — on this subject.

    (As I recall, the maximum score The Wine Advocate awarded a cru Beaujolais was . . . 94 points? 96 points? . . . from the stellar 2009 vintage.)


  10. redmond barry says:

    For those who appreciate what 15+ years of chemistry can do for wine, no explanation is necessary…….

  11. Interesting experience today, given the topic. One of my tasting room team members brought in a bottle of 1989 Ridge Jimsomare Vyd Cabernet to share with the group. CA Cab 13.2 in alcohol, really interesting aromatically, had gotten past the tightness of Ridge’s youth. Interesting flavors and texture. I’ve had a lot of Ridge’s Cabs and more of their Montebello…structurally closer to BDX than most other California Cabernet in terms of its relative inapproachability as a youngster and its blossoming later.

    And as I tasted this 25 year old wine, from a brand I admire immensely, I kept thinking…interesting. That’s it. It had lost all of its spunk (and I mean that in all senses of the word). It had matured into a cardigan-wearing, Republican-voting, one-foot-on-the-floor-at-all-times relic. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But I wonder if, in all the time we wonder how the wine is going to age, we dismiss the ungainly, untoward, paint-outside-the-numbers glory of youth?

  12. Steve,

    The 1989 Cabernet vintage in California generated no great affinity by the wine press or collectors. So your contemporary experience drinking the Ridge is in sync with “history’s judgment.”

    Quoting Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate:

    “If you have given up on the 1989 vintage for California Cabernet, think again. Beringer’s 1989 Private Reserve is one of the stars of the vintage. Unlike many of the hollow, aggressively tannic 1989s, this dark-colored wine is loaded with rich, chocolatey, blackcurrant fruit, and spicy, toasty oak. Although it reveals harder tannin than is found in the 1990 and 1991, the tannin is not out of balance. (90 points RP) (Reviewed October 1993)”

    [Parker’s overall rating for 1989 vintage North Coast California Cabs is 84 points.]

    And for those who don’t know Santa Clara County, both Steve’s family and Ridge have roots in Silicon Valley before it was “Silicon Valley.”

    As as undergrad at Santa Clara University, I spent many a Saturday at Mirassou’s tasting room in San Jose. And later Ridge winery in Cupertino.

    Last year a wine cellar client (a former ambassador to Ireland, who poured California wines such as Heitz Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” and Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour Private Reserve” at embassy events to showcase our burgeoning industry) “gifted” me with California Cabs from the 1970s. Included in that cache are Mirassou wines.

    Seeing those old-style labels brought back memories.



  13. Hi Steven, I think most people DO appreciate our California Cabernets when the wines are young. Old wine is as much an intellectual taste as a sensory taste. As you noted, some of these older wines are interesting — but if “interesting” is the highest compliment you can pay them, I have to wonder if it’s worth the time and money to buy and age them.

  14. Bill Haydon, disgusting sicko! You’re cyberbullying me and don’t even dare to expose the identity of the link. Like all losers, you’re a coward jerk.

    Steve, you’re the host of this blog; when you see him peeing and pooping on your lawn, do you do anything to him?

  15. Thanks for the memory Bob! Unfortunately, one of the vestiges of old-time California winemaking and viticulture was the planting a site to a whole host of varieties, some that would never ripen. Planting Cabernet Sauvignon in Soledad led to a whole host of sales and marketing issues in the early 1980s that the brand never truly recovered from.


  16. Dear Susan Wu, I try to stay clear of people’s interactions here. Unless someone says something libelous or downright insulting, they’re free to comment and put their reputations on the line.

  17. Steve,

    You’re welcome. Halcyon times.

    A profile of Mirassou can be found in Bob Benson’s interview book titled “Great Winemakers of California” (pages 89-97).


  18. Excerpts from Decanter Magazine “California 2006” Supplement
    (unknown which 2006 issue):

    “Dirty Old Cabs;
    Top California Cabernets from the 1970s outscored Bordeaux at the re-run fo the Paris tasting.
    But will today’s current crop last so well, BEVERLY BLANNING MW wonders”

    Link: not available [article not found on the Web]

    On a recent trip to California, I tasted as many old Cabernets as I could lay my hands on. It was a fascinating experience and the changes are dramatic. Older wines were much lighter in style — winemakers tended to add acid or pick earlier int eh 1970s and 1980s. From the 1990s onward, the trend for riper and riper wines started to take off.

    An element clearly apparent as the wines aged was the importance of vntage. In Europe, we tend to underestimate this in New World wines, since disastrous vintages are few and far between. But over time, the influence of the weather becomes more obvious. One of the most interesting things during my tastings was that vintages ofen condemned as substandard by critics have aged into beautiful and really well-balanced wines. 1998, for example, was rated very poorly in the US, but has produced wines which are ageing very well. In contrast, vintages widely acclaimed at the time of their release did not always produce the best wines. While many wines from 1994 and 1997 are still intense and complex, others appear to be ageing rapidly.

    My conclusion was that there are indeed some truly age-worthy wines, but they are likely to be fewer and fewer in future, with changes in wine styles and people valuing being able to drink wines younger. But the most reassuring piece of news I learned was from the victorious winemaker of the May [2006 re-enactment of the 1976 Judgment of Paris] tasting, Paul Draper of Ridge: “I haven’t changed a thing about the Monte Bello Cabernet in 30 years,” he said.

    [Bob’s aside: Link to Decanter magazine coverage of the 2006 event titled “California Trounces France 30 Years On”


  19. From the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
    (May 31, 2006, Page Unknown):

    “Tasted 30 Years Later: They’re Alive!;
    A rematch of the historic 1976 Paris event proves California reds age gracefully, as they topple French classics.”


    By Patrick Comiskey
    Special to The Times

  20. This is a subject that interests me, and being late to the thread I will just say I feel Charlie Olken’s comments add the most perspective to the discussion. And I would also like to call out Bill Haydon on his response to Susan Wu–you need to explain what you were trying to communicate.

  21. redmond barry says:

    Deserving and properly aged wines go first straight to my limbic system, reaching higher cortical levels later.

  22. Bill Haydon says:


    Her comment was a little convoluted, and I posted a fairly common internet meme in response. It’s been applied to me once, and I both understood the point and found it amusing. There was no harm–and certainly no bullying–intended, and I apologize that it came off that way.

    Still, nobody has yet to address my main points. First, if Napa is now producing a style of Cabernet that has more in common with a $20 Bierzo or Montelpuciano what possible justification is there for paying classified growth Bordeaux prices for it. Second, that if Napa can’t (or won’t) produce age-worthy Cabernet shouldn’t the question be is Napa still a great wine region rather than narcissistically attempting to shift the boundaries of what constitutes a great wine region. Those are the responses I would like to hear.

  23. Steven Gauthier says:

    Interesting topic. I suspect most Napa Cab producers might not care if their wines have long term aging potential. Chances are the wines are going to be consumed much earlier and they know that. If a significant portion of today’s buyers are not interested in cellar aging wines, I can see Napa vintners wanting to create wines where everything is immediately accessible in the wine. Now whether big plush wines with limited age-worthiness constitute Great Wine, I’m not sure.

    As a side note I had the chance to participate in a tasting of 60’s Cabernets in 1989. The runaway winner in that tasting was a 1965 Concannon Limited Selection from Livermore over a selection 67 and 68’s from Inglenook, Charles Krug and BV. A number of the wines had aged well, but the Concannon looked like it had quite a bit of life left. I do think Napa can produce age-worthy Cabs, whether anyone currently cares to do so is another question.

  24. Mr. Haydon–

    Young, rich, layered Cabernet is a far better wine, in my humble opinion, that a $20 Bierzo or even a young Montepulciano.

    Secondly, when you say “classified growth prices”, you fail to identify which wines and what prices? Moreover, you somehow suggest that all Napa Cabs sell for some mythical price and are of the same stripe stylewise.

    Third, who said Napa can’t or won’t produce ageworthy Cab. Not me. Not Bill Dyer. Not the folks who are buying up those wines and putting them in cellars.

    You wave around the reddest of herrings and then say, “where are the responses”? Cabernet can go with some fish, but it surely does not go with red herring.

  25. “Those are the responses I would like to hear.”

    Renewing my query:

    Bill Haydon,

    From your perspective, how long should a well-made red wine age in the bottle?

    (By which I mean: it improves from the “tincture of time” before hitting a plateau.)

    And from your perspective, how long should a well-made red wine aging in the bottle stay at that plateau before beginning its fade?

    ~~ Bob

  26. Excerpt from the Napa Valley Register “Wine” Section
    (May 4, 2013, Page Unknown):

    “Napa Wine Industry Warned of Future Climate Threat;
    Local growers confident of ability to adapt.”


    By Howard Yune

    Might climate change help push Napa Valley wines off the store shelves of the future, and put bottles from Idaho, Canada or even China in their place?

    A study published last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences forecasts temperature increases triggering the loss of two-thirds or more of the Napa Valley’s current grape output by 2050, with similar losses projected in France and other prime winemaking regions.

    The same trends of increasing average temperatures, the report’s authors predicted, also could enable a major northward shift in winemaking into the Pacific Northwest, central China and other regions once too cold for vineyards.

    For the climate change projection published last month, a team of nine researchers used 17 different climate models to gauge the effects of global warming on nine major winemaking regions, including California, the Bordeaux and Rhône regions of France, Chile and Australia.

    One scenario assumed a rise in average temperature of 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while a second assumed average warming of 8.5 F. In either case, the academy’s model predicted sharp production losses in traditional wine regions, as rising temperature forces growers to irrigate more frequently to ward off heat damage, move vines to higher and cooler elevations, or pull out of unprofitable areas altogether.

    California’s territory suitable for wine grapes is predicted to shrink by about 70 percent by midcentury, with an even steeper 85 percent loss forecast for France, Italy and the rest of Mediterranean Europe.

    “What the report says is that using current grape varieties and current techniques, those areas would become not very good for producing wine,” said Lee Hannah, the report’s lead author and a senior research fellow for Conservation International.

    . . .

    [The Register article has a link to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report.]

  27. Excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle “Wine” Section
    (October 24, 2008, Page Unknown)”

    “Five Ways California Vintners Are Weathering Climate Change”


    By Paul Franson
    Special to The Chronicle

    Here are five ways growers and winemakers cope with new weather patterns.

    1. Move to cooler climates
    2. Protect grapes
    3. Choose different grapes and wines
    4. Modify winemaking techniques
    5. Be smart about water use

  28. Bill Haydon says:

    I think high end Napa is going for roughly the same price range as the bulk of classified growth Bordeaux. At Total Wine, I can buy a 2005 Lafite for $450. I think we can agree that’s priced equivalent to the very top of the Napa hierarchy: Harlan, Screaming Volatile Acidity, Bryant, Grace and many others. 2009 Gruaud-Larose (2nd growth; arguably a super second) is a wine from a great vintage and a Chateau with a reputation for aging for decades is $150 at Total Wine in Cali. That’s about the range for many a cookie cutter cult wanna-be Napa Cab these days (Perry-Moore, Arietta et al). Dipping down into the 4th or 5th growths, you’re in the $75-$100 range, which is pretty much entry level in Napa for a Cab that nobody’s heard of but at least has some integrity behind it. Let’s not throw around $40 cabs in heavy bottles with Napa appellations and back labels talking about “secret vineyard sources.” We both know how that sausage gets made. So outside of a few outliers on the Bordeaux side (great vintage 1st growth, Petrus, Cheval Blanc) Napa’s prices are in or at least very near the bulk of classified Bordeaux. And that’s Bordeaux. Other great age worthy regions including Barolo and Barbaresco and Rioja can be downright bargains compared to Napa.

    And maybe young Napa Cab is better than a Bierzo or Montepulciano, but we both know that’s not who they consider their peer wines and benchmarks, Are they 4 to 8 times better for a drink-it-while-it’s-young wine, because that’s the price ratio? When they won’t age worth a damn?

    The very hypothesis of Steve’s post was that Napa Cabs don’t age, and I think that once one leaves the Napa bubble that’s an opinion that has gained pretty widespread traction around the wine world as people open up those 10 and 15 year old Harlans in their cellars or go to retrospective tasting of the top wines from the region. I’ve been to them for 94 and 97 and taken more than a little schadenfreude in the faces of the hard core Cali collectors in the room.

    Can Napa and California produce age-worthy Cabernet? I’ve already answered that and said yes. I’ve tasted it in old Martha’s Vineyard, Stag’s Leap SLV and Cask 23 from the 80s. Pretty much any Ridge Monte Bello and even the old Havens Franc-Merlot blends from the early 90s. The problem is that Napa abandoned that style to chase after the Pied Piper of Monkton, and now that he has been exposed as a fraud you don’t want to admit your error and do the hard work of returning to a classical style of winemaking. Oh no, could never stoop to such a thing. Rather, you want to redefine a two century old definition of what is great wine to suit your immediate needs. And people talk about Napatude and Napa Narcissism. I wonder why.

  29. Bill Haydon says:

    Let me just add one thing, and I’ll keep the comparisons solely domestic. If Napa Cab can’t age (and Steve is admitting up front that the mass of it can’t anymore), and Charlie is saying that those wines still offer deep, complex young fruit and velvety tannins, why on earth wouldn’t somebody just get the same frickin’ thing out of a $25 bottle of Paso Zin?

    The reality is that Napa’s entire reputation has been built as the only region in the world that can compete with Bordeaux for the production of world class Cabernet Sauvignon, AND BORDEAUX AGES. That is the very fricking foundation upon which Napa charges 100-500 a bottle. If now, one of Napa’s and California’s major advocates is admitting that the majority of the wines made in the dominant style of the last two decades don’t age worth a crap, well? Napa chose to benchmark themselves against Bordeaux, and when the wines are increasingly shown to age nowhere near the level of Bordeaux, all of a sudden the entire two century old basis of what constitutes a great wine region must be rewritten to suit Napa’s needs.

    People pay five or six hundred dollars for a bottle of Lafite because they can be relatively assured that that wine will have blossomed into something ethereal twenty-five years down the road. What are they paying the same amount for a bottle of Harlan for? The hopes of selling it to some gullible Chinese collector who’ll regift it in three months?

  30. Mr. Haydon, there are so many good Napa Cabs priced $50 to $125 that will age and age and age. You conveniently forget about them and point out a few that say do not age.

    So, let’s just look at a small list. Chappellet, Continuum, SLWC, Spottswoode, Corison, Dominus, Grgich Hills, Diamond Creek, Dyer, Trefethen.

    How long do you want this list to be? Your complete disregard for these wines and so many others renders your argument meaningless because you lump everything together.

    And while I agree with you that ageworthiness is certainly why Cab Sauv goes into my cellar and why the grape and its top wines have such a following, the notion that none of the pricey Napa Cabs will age is just plain uninformed.

  31. Not to inject any math anxiety (phobia) into this discussion — after all, this isn’t a STEM lecture — but I suspect that consumers bottle aging red wine (at home or in a wine locker outside the home) resembles a reciprocal function:


    Folks start off with lots of bottles of wine (y-axis) in the early years (x-axis) of collecting.

    And proceed to rapidly drink them up as they learn their stylistic preferences.

    Come “year five” but especially by “year ten” (X-axis), the number of bottles (y-axis) rapidly declines.

    Quoting Andrea Immer Robinson, M.S.:

    “A commonly-quoted trade statistic states that the average American consumer ages their wine 17 minutes — the amount of time it takes to get the bottle home and the cork pulled! I don’t have proof, but I wouldn’t doubt it. And for most wines, that’s perfectly appropriate. NINETY-FIVE PERCENT of wines on the market are meant to be enjoyed within one two three years of bottling, while they are young and fresh. The other FIVE PERCENT or so are wines that can actually improve with aging (otherwise, what’s the point?).”

    If most wine collectors lack the patience or the storage space to allow “the tincture of time” develop secondary and tertiary components in their red wines, then maybe it’s not a bad thing that many Napa Valley Cabs don’t age to 20 or 30 years.

    They can procure older wines from the wine auction houses on a “just-in-time” delivery basis.

    Only the “One Percenters” (with sufficiently high disposable incomes that can underwrite the costs of long-term storage) will ever taste wines 20 or 30 years old — or need be concerned with the risk of red wine “pre-mox.”


    What is the oldest vintage wine in your collection?

    How long have you owned and stored it?

    How many bottles of that wine do you currently own?

    How often do you sample them?

    And when do you plan to drink your last bottle?

    Lots of collectors suffer from “last bottle syndrome.” Wishing to open it for a special occasion — which never come often enough.

    As Len Evans exhorted in his “Theory of Capacity”: drink ’em up!

    [For those unfamiliar with Evans and his gustatory theory, Google Frank Prial’s 1993 New York Times “Wine Talk” column profile.]

  32. Charlie, I agree completely with your last comment. Haydon makes some salient points, but you’re definitely spot on.

    Bob, since I doubt anyone else will answer your questions, I will.

    I’m 34. My oldest wine is a 1994 Rioja owned since 2007. Longest owned wines (1999 Burgundies) since 2003. I have only one bottle of each, but have consumed 3 different bottles of those 99 Burgs I bought in 93. The others I haven’t opened exactly because of the last bottle syndrome…

  33. Bill Haydon says:


    What is the oldest vintage wine in your collection?
    59 Latour

    How long have you owned and stored it?
    About 20 years

    How many bottles of that wine do you currently own?
    2 (out of 4 initially purchased)

    How often do you sample them? And when do you plan to drink your last bottle?
    Will drink them in 2019 and 2029

    Something more mainstream would be a case of 1970 Taylor Port that I bought five years ago. I open a bottle every year at Christmas. I have a case of 77 backing it up for when the 70s are gone in seven years. On the younger front, I bought a lot of 2001 Rioja Reservas and Gran Reservas that I’m beginning to open up frequently. Great wines with another two or three decades of life in front of them.

    As for your list, you can name all you want. Anyone who makes balanced Caberenet in Napa has been an outlier since at least 1994. Yes, they are out there, and I commend them (as I do Hanzell for Chard) for swimming against the dominant leitmotif of Napa’s stylistic excess. They, however, are not what Napa has hung its hat on these past two decades, what has driven (or “drove” I should say) the cult frenzy and are not what has defined Napa in the eyes of collectors. And I hardly think Trefethen Cab is worthy of being included in the rest of your group. Its natural peer would be something like Cakebread–a tired old name brand of middling wines moving primarily through chain steakhouses. Hardly a bullet you want in your holster when debating Napa v. Bordeaux.

  34. Kyle and Bill,

    I appreciate the replies.

    I am “blessed” to be on the receiving end of “orphan wines” from wine locker/wine cellar organization clients (many well into their retirement years) who are “empty-nesters,” their wives don’t drink good wine, nor do their kids.

    They own multiple lifetime’s worth of wine — and no one to share it with.

    So it collects dust.

    And sadly it will be consigned to an auction house upon their demise.

    Hence Len Evan’s exhortation to “Drink ’em up!”

    Last year I organized the wine cellar of the Los Angeles collector who bought Alfred Hitchcock’s collection upon his passing in the early 1980s. Oh my, what treasures resided in that collection!

    Some I got to taste with him after weekend work sessions.

    I got into wine just at the right time: Bordeaux and Burgundy were still available and affordable, and the renaissance in the California scene was just beginning.

    Today, a Millennial or even Gen X-er would be hard pressed to duplicate — with contemporary wine vintages — what I experienced through mentors like Robert Lawrence Balzer and his wine appreciation course. Especially his wine country excursions.

    (Not to sound like a shameless name dropper, but here was his itinerary for a French trip that his students were invited to join: Fly into Paris and dine at La Tour d’Argent. Visit the Louvre Museum. “Children . . . get on the bus” [his favorite exhortation] and travel to Champagne to be feted with lunches and dinners at Krug and Taittinger and Moet and Bollinger. Travel to Lyon and dine under the watchful eye of Paul Bocuse at his restaurant. Next day have a guided tour of DRC and barrel and bottle taste. Travel to Bordeaux and be feted with lunches and dinners at Mouton and Lafite and Cheval Blanc and Latour. Travel to Cognac and be feted at the butterfly farm of Hennessy. Travel back to Paris for one more night on the town before returning to Los Angeles.)

    Millennials and Gen X-ers “hunger” for knowledge and experience.

    The question is: who is giving it to them?

  35. Bill Dyer wrote in a comment to an earlier blog that he planted other Bordeaux varieties in his (largely?) Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, to use in the same way that a chef turns to his/her spice box.

    I wonder how much of the accelerated maturing of California Cabernets can be attributed to the 100″ variety bottlings . . . unlike red Bordeaux, which comprise a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot (and perhaps even Malbec — if anyone is still growing it).

    Could that “field blend” of sibling grapes and their different tannins have an intrinsic anti-oxidant advantage in extending the life of a bottle?

    I turn to wiser head who have studied viticulture for insights.

  36. Let me correct this typo:

    I wonder how much of the accelerated maturing of California Cabernets can be attributed to the 100% variety bottlings . . .

  37. Let me throw this question out to anyone:

    Who has experience sampling red wines that have only gone through primary fermenatation, but not acid-lowering secondary (malolactic) fermentation?

    Do these “outlier” red wines have a reputation for longevity?

    And if “yes,” could taking red wines through a partial (not full) ML extend their “shelf life”?

    I likewise turn to wiser heads who have studied viniculture for insights.

  38. Steve Mirassou: “Bill, you seem very willing to allude to the wealth of winemaking regions and offerings from Europe, but don’t seem to have had the desire or opportunity to expand your CA horizons.”

    Your comment underscores something I see very often in these blog posts–a very inflated assumption of knowledge. I spent 12 years consulting in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, helping establish two brands, one of which (Burrowing Owl Winery) is still considered among the best in the region. Then I spent 5 years going down to the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, helping to establish Villamontefiori Winery, which is producing some really exciting wines from the Italian varieties. So your comments about “not having the desire and opportunity to expand your CA horizons” are showing me you are quick to make comments without bothering to consider whether you have the knowledge and background to judge individuals you don’t know. Not very classy, in my opinion.

  39. Bill (Dyer):

    That comment was made in reference to a multitude of posts that Bill Haydon has made viz Europe vs. Napa on this blog and did not reference you, your experience, your wines, your hopes, dreams, etc.

    If you look at the thread, you’ll notice that my post was written on Feb 21, two days before your first post on this subject (Feb 23).

    Steven Mirassou

  40. ve Mirassou: yes my bad, making my own quick assumptions while trying to read through the thread in a hurry.


  41. Bob Henry says:

    If readers of this specific wine blog subject are intrigued by what older California Cabernets smell and taste like, then peruse the wine auction house e-commerce sites and troll for 1976 and 1978 vintage wines.

    (Avoid 1977.)

    California suffered from a severe multi-year drought. Not all vineyards had drip irrigation or “rain birds” installed, so “de facto” dry farming was forced upon them.

    That drought yielded small size grapes that had a disproportionately high juice-to-skin contact ratio. That yielded tannic wines that took years to become approachable. (Not as bad as the infamous 1986 vintage red Bordeaux such as Gruaud-Larose.)

    But man o’ man do they bottle age!

    And the price will be cheaper than their contemporary releases.

  42. Bob Henry says:


    Let me correct an error here: the term is “skin-to-juice contact ratio.”

  43. Bob Henry: I recall that when Jerry Luper was at Chateau Montelena he bottled Zinfandel that did not go through malo. I remember it having a purity of red fruit aroma. The only other red wine that I know that was said to not go through malo, was Gallo Hearty Burgundy. Don’t know if that was true then or now (do they still even make it)?

    Yes, retaining acidity and keeping the pH lower would be a good motive for blocking ML in reds, but then the stability has to be dealt with. Sterile filtering is not something I would associate with aiming for long-lived wines–but others will disagree with that. There are also additives such as lysozyme that can be used to block malo, but this would not be popular with the Natural Wine enthusiasts (even though enzymes are part of nature, allowing us to live)!

  44. Bob Henry, while I doubt blends of Bordeaux varieties necessarily age better than 100% Cab bottlings, I think co-fermentation of mixed varieties may have effects in phenolic development that set wines up for aging into complex wines. In Condrieu, what motivated the practice of co-fermenting Viognier with Syrah? Perhaps because Viogier has lots of tannin without any pigment to grab on to, whereas Syrah is loaded with pigment without much tannin. Maybe the two together form longer chain molecules (pigment and tannin linked together) that are more stable, and perhaps build richer mouth-feel as well. Petit Verdot is highly pigmented, and perhaps in a co-fermentation with other Bordeaux varieties a similar effect takes place…

  45. Bob Henry says:

    Quoting from a two part e-mail from Randall Grahm:

    If tannins are utterly ripe/soft at bottling, this may likely presage a shorter life span. (Riper tannins associated with riper grapes, and more or less de rigueur these days.) It’s more than just tannins, of course – anthocyanins and a acidity/pH, and just overall concentration also play a role. Tannins ripen either on the vine, in the cellar or in the bottle.

    — And —

    You definitely want to complete ML for a more long-lived wine. (SO2 goes a longer way w/ ML complete wines.) You are also obliged to filter non-ML wines, and that doesn’t help longevity, for one thing.

  46. Bob Henry says:

    And to inject a little levity into this discussion, let me direct you to today’s (March 1, 2015) weekend’s Non-Sequitur cartoon:

  47. Bob Henry says:

    Once again: a discrete link to Sunday’s (March 1st’s) Non Sequitur comic.

  48. Bob Henry says:

    One of the pioneers of Napa who created a legacy of well-made and well-priced wines was Louis Martini/.

    A Terry Robards wine column from The New York Times (1982):

  49. Bob Henry says:


    Just stumbled across this on the Web.

    From the San Francisco Chronicle
    (March 10, 2017):

    “A love affair with older wines”
    By Esther Mobley



    “Everyone has heard that ‘wine improves with age,’ but I’m not so sure that everyone, if presented with it, would like aged wine. A little bit of age, sure — most red wines need about two years in barrel and bottle before they’re palatable. That wine continues to taste better after five more years, after 10 more years, is uncontroversial. But beyond that? At 20 years beyond the vintage date, at 50 years, red wines can convey aromas and flavors that put off a lot of people, even many expert wine tasters.

    “In fact, it’s a wonder that anyone, including me, likes the stuff. What begins as bright, juicy and plump — fully of ‘primary’ flavors, like ripe berries — weathers, over time, into something duller, browner, dried-out, full of ‘tertiary’ aspects like tobacco and leather. It gets better, arguably, only to get worse, indisputably.

    “That’s a bad trade. If young wine is like frolicking in a sunny orchard, old wine is like crawling into a dank basement.”

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