Properly aged wine may be an anachronism, but if you have the time and patience, the rewards can be stupendous. True, in aging wine you never know what you’re going to get. More often than not it’s a disappointment. But like digging in a mine, you will occasionally find a gem that makes all the patience and disappointments worth it.
VIGIL VINEYARDS, Terra Vin, non-vintage, Napa Valley Red Table Wine:
This is a gem that ranks in the top fifty of the 100,000+ wines I’ve tasted.
I took it from my cellar in March, 2014. I know nothing about it save the information I gleaned from the label. It’s 13.8% alcohol and is a field blend of 54% Zinfandel, 38% Carignan, and 8% Refosco from a dry farmed vineyard that was at least 50-years-old when I obtained the bottle, which was probably around 1994. I have a vague recollection of running into the youthful proprietor at an event in St. Helena and driving to the vineyard in Calistoga, where he gave me this bottle.
I can’t imagine that this wine could be any better given more or less time in the bottle. That I opened it at the optimum time was a stroke of luck, the like of which wine lovers dream about. This is a sublime wine of enormous depth, power, length, and perfect balance, with layers and layers of scents and flavors like dried cherries, strawberries, pomegranates, bacon, cinnamon, nutmeg , vanilla — the list goes on. Go ahead and ridicule the crazy wine writer who has gone off the deep end, but this is why wine continues to fascinate. These are the moments that remind us that wine is not merely a concoction from a formula. It’s not beer, or Coca Cola. It is a reflection of a place and a time. And sometimes it makes us sit up in awe.
I took the bottle to my neighbors, who finished it off with dinner. I received the following email later that evening:“Trying to figure out the nose… Tobacco Figs Pomegranate Jasmine Cherry Basalmic jam Oak Tree mulch Lime zest The alcohol floats around the edges. Trying to figure out the rest… The finish is exquisite. So long that we don’t know where it ends… Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe we’re prejudiced by the dry aged, peppered rib steaks and bacon infused Brussels sprouts we just had, but damn…. How strange that on a Thursday, tonight, just a regular tonight, that we should be tasting the best wine we’ve ever had. More strange is that it may well be the best wine YOU have ever had. Proof that everything is precious, anything may be perfect. This is perfect. Thank you for thinking of us. PS: it’s been five minutes at least, the finish is still going on. Oh my…”
We’ll just give that a solid 100 points and leave it at that!
1986 NAVARRO VINEYARDS, Mendocino County, Cabernet Sauvignon:
In September I opened another gem. The 1986 Navarro Cab had aged magnificently. After three and a half decades of trying to describe wines, it’s wines like this that leave me speechless (or almost). It was aromatic and intense, with fresh blackberry and black currant aroma and flavors, just a hint of earthiness, a vibrant minerality, bright acidity and fabulous length. Wow! Oddly enough the wine threw almost no sediment. 99 points
CEDAR MOUNTAIN 1997 One Oak Vineyard, Livermore Valley, Merlot:
I’ve long contended that Merlot peaks at about 13 years after the vintage. This 14-year-old Merlot is superb, rich and ripe (despite its modest 13% alcohol), it has layers of cherry, cocoa powder, damp earth and bacon. Intense and long, the tannins are fully resolved (do decant, as there is a bit of sediment), and the balance is perfect. 98 points.
MARTIN WEYRICH 1999 Il Palio, Paso Robles, Sangiovese:
13.8% alcohol. Most California Sangioveses are a pale reflection of their Old World counterparts, where the variety forms the basis of Chianti Classico and Brunello. This fifteen-year-old example belies the local reputation, however, and could easily be mistaken for a top-notch Brunello. It’s full-bodied, redolent of cherries and thyme, with light tannin, firm structure and dried cranberry finish. Marvelous stuff. 96 points.
RUTHERFORD ESTATE CELLARS, Napa Valley, 1992 Merlot:
Black cherry with a black truffle and soy sauce background, a hint of vanilla, soft tannin, light nutmeg, and a mouthwatering juicy finish. Very satisfying. 95 points.
DRY CREEK VINEYARD, Sonoma County, 1995 Old Vines Zinfandel:
Ripe and spicy and (amazingly) young. There’s just a hint of green tea and vanilla to a core of blackberry and cinnamon flavors. Soft tannins, firm acidity. It may lack subtlety, but it’s a powerhouse of concentrated flavor now, and it should develop some nuance with additional age (I estimate 5 to 7 years). 88 points.