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Wednesday Warblings
In Search of Wines That Will Age

By Charles Olken

I was recently asked to recommend a number of older wines that have aged well in the bottle, but that also have younger counterparts that are highly rated. On the face of that request, one might think that the list would be endless. Turns out, however, that the changing scene here in California makes that task harder than it looks.

Small, family owned wineries, the type that would be most likely to be able to meet that requirement, too often have changed over time. So many of the important names of the '70s and 80s either do not exist or have become hopelessly corporate.

Take a winery like Chalone, for example. I still have lovely Chalone Pinot Noirs from the '70s in my cellar. They might be a little faded at the edges, but they are wonderful examples of old, great wines that have lived long and distinguished lives. The problem is that newer Chalone Pinots simply are no longer great--very good maybe, but no longer great. It is easier to name wineries that were once pacesetters and are no longer than to name wineries that were top of the list thirty and forty years ago and remain so today.

I will admit to a certain sadness at that situation. I miss their brilliance, and I miss the people who made them brilliant. Sometimes,it is nothing more than a change in generations, and sometimes it is corporate ownership with expanded production, but whatever the reason, there are more Chalones and Souverains and Freemark Abbeys than their are Phelpses and Ridges and Grgich Hillses and Schramsbergs.

But, there are those special places still in existence, and many more than I have named. And the list of wineries not much changed at the upper end of their quality range because of corporate ownership, just to mention Ravenswood and Beaulieu as two, is also encouraging.

But perhaps most encouraging of all are the newer producers that have swelled the ranks of wineries whose bottlings are destined to age two and three decades. Their numbers are large and growing, and while they are not the answer to today's project, they will make my next list some twenty years hence a lot longer.

The current project is just beginning. It will involve visiting a number of producers to choose the specific older wines to be recommended. And it will take all summer to come up with a tight selection across vintages, geographies and philosophies.

In the meantime, please jump in with your ideas and recommendations. California wine has shown that it can age. This project will look to show that there are producers who have made brilliant, age worthy wine across the decades.


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Off the Top of My Giant Head
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:5/29/2013 11:34:10 AM

Hey Charlie,

I immediately think of Mount Eden Vineyards, Caymus Dehlinger, Chateau Montelena, and Diamond Creek. Wish I had a lot more of those in my dwindling cellar.

Off the Top of My Giant Head
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:5/29/2013 11:35:51 AM

I missed a comma. I was in a coma. Must be my aging semi-colon.

Caymus Dehlinger is an accounting firm. Caymus, Dehlinger are two separate wineries.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/29/2013 12:48:48 PM

Hi Ron--

all good choices. Thanks. It will be fun to see the list of possibilities pile up. Choosing among them will be both fun and challenging

Don't Know Much....
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:5/30/2013 10:08:05 AM

About California wine but structure I do know and Ron My Love, are you talking Caymus now or Caymus of old? The new, factory direct Caymus drinks like cotton candy juice and is soft as hell. Just cannot imagine anything good coming from plunking one of those is the cellar for a decade....

Great Project
by Fabien castel
Posted on:5/30/2013 10:48:32 AM

I have been working with Adam Tolmach for 12 years, he has been making wine since 1979 and has kept a library cellar of most of his production. I would be delighted to visit the past with you and compare it to the present production which is as authentic and creatively alive as it ever was. In our area I would contact Jim Clendenen from ABC and Bob Lindquist from Qupe. I am surprised at how much aging wines is not in the discussions when it comes to domestic wines. I understand it is a risky practice but it is so rewarding and so much an integral part of why wine is unlike any other products.

Old wines
by doug wilder
Posted on:5/30/2013 10:54:42 AM

Charlie, Do you still taste wines in the 10 year retrospective format for publication? I believe it was 1995 we tasted together (with Wilfred and Joel) and it was especially memorable for me. I would recommend to check out some of the older Dyer Vineyard from Bill and Dawnine. Tasting all the way back to the premiere 1996 with them was informative. I too miss those old Chalone :(

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