Cellar Notes

Cellar Selections
Wines in this section are those that need or will improve with age. Some, as noted, may be quite drinkable now, but have the structure to age for at least the minimum period recommended, and often well beyond the stated maximum.
Note:  Prices are Suggested Retail Price (srp), may vary in some markets

   Aging wine...the indisputable advantages:  scroll down.....

Wines Worth Cellaring:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Roast Lamb or Beef:  Many reds work with beef and lamb but fine Cabernet Sauvignon is a noble match. There are some excellent ones out there right now: 

Jordan 2010 CabernetJordan 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley.  Silky already, rich, elegant and impeccably balanced--it's easy to see why Jordan Cabernet holds the #1 spot on restaurant wine lists. Winemake Rob Davis knows how to select the right lots to produce consistently flavorful, complex, ageworthy Cabernets that are also accessible in their early years.  Drink now ... or cellar till 2022.  [note: tasting extremely well  in early Fall 2015.]

Chateau Belregard-Figeac, Saint-Emilion Bordeaux. 
A grand cru St -Emilion--affordable ($30-35) and worth looking for, with a typical blend of merlot and cabernet franc, and just enough cabernet sauvignon to detect a dash of cassis. You can drink it now, but it will only get better over the next few years.
Amici Cabernet Sauvignon  2012  Napa Valley    Amici, founded in 1991, makes several Cabernets, this being the basic one, but it is outstanding, with intriguing black fruit flavors that will surely grow more complex and aromatic with aging. Definitely one to cellar and enjoy from 2020-2025, though some will love its youthful vigor and grip now.
Dry Creek Vyd "The Mariner" 2012  Dry Creek Valley   A classic Bordeaux blend, well - balanced but rich and lively, with blackberry, black currant and spicy oak flavors; consistently excellent and can only improve but drinks well now with roast or grilled lamb or beef. 
Elizabeth Spencer 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville  Napa Valley.  Classic Napa Valley Cabernet, with plum, black berries and cedary flavor notes, well-structured to age a decade or more but can accompany roast meats or game now, though it's a bit chewy.
Tip:  a nice gift for the North Carolina wine lover on your holiday list, since it is a namesake for our esteemed Chapel Hill author, Elizabeth Spencer.

Trefethen 2012 Dragon's Tooth, Napa Valley $60-70  That cool red dragon adorns this very toothsome red--a blend of darks: berry-ripe malbec (66%), petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon (20% each). Lush, very succulent malbec, big but balanced. Great for austumn grilling or roast meats.

Vanderbilt Reserve Cabernet Franc 2012, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma) $27.  Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is making some outstanding wines, some sourced from grapes grown in California. This is an excellent Cab Franc, with ripe red currant flavors, excellent balance. A tasty red now, but with the structure to improve with a few years on it.  A bit more intense is Biltmore's The Hunt 2012, Sonoma County,$39.99.  A blend of 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 35 cabernet franc, 25 merlot, aromas of ripe berries, oak and vanilla, flavors of black cherry, this solid red can handle hearty fare, such as roast meats, venison, duck confit now, but will develop wonderful complexity and rich texture with some years of bottle age--say, in 2020-2022 (it will be here before you know it!).

Pinot Noir.  A frequent pick with many of my favorite dishes
because its spicy, ruby-rich flavors so nicely complement roast fowl, game (especially duck, goose, wild turkey)
I love the various incarnations of Pinot Noir, from the taut well-structured wines of France's Burgundy regions -- the te de Nuits (richer, denser appellations such as Nuits-St. Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée) and the Côte de Beaune (the lighter but elegant Volnays, Beaunes) and Côtes Chalonnaise (earthier but simpler Givry, Mercurey), to the elegance and balance of Oregon Pinots, to the extravagant fruit of Sonoma's Russian River Valley and the engaging flavors of Pinots from California's central coast (Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Santa Lucia Highlands).
New Zealand is also producing intriguing Pinots:  notably Felton Road in Otago. They age extremely well -- recently enjoyed the rich and velvety 2009, but it has several years ahead of it, at least to 2018.  Cellar more recent vintages for similar enjoyment.
            I think one of the things Pinot Noir/Burgundy fanatics love about the variety is a certain sauvage character--a kind of wildness of flavor that sometimes expresses as earthiness...or wild rose...wild berries rather than cultivated...a certain woodsiness (not woodiness)--that is, forest floor, woodlands after rain. When pinot noir is allowed to get too ripe this "wild" character is obliterated and the result is a ripe fruit bomb that could be almost any variety.
       I'm a Pinot/Burgundy fanatic, so I love this flavor characteristic. It's showing now in the Merry Edwards 2012 Klopp Ranch, a wine of dense, brambly, wild cherry fruit. When I get that in RR Pinots, I'm thrilled, captivated--wish that I had more bottles because -- though very drinkable now, with the likes of grilled duck breast, roast loin of pork, even roast leg of lamb -- I think it will be even better with some bottle age (I recently tasted the 2007--nigh on to perfect!). This one is beautifully balanced, the key to aging, and likely will be even more interesting and intriguing from, say, 2016-2022.
At dinner with friends recently we opened their bottle of Merry Edwards 2002 Windsor Garden Vyd--wow! It was beautiful--aromatic, silky in texture, spicy flavors, smooth and long. Oh, the delights of aging!
M.E.'s current
2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot ($39), the winery's lightest , is rich and luscious for drinking now, and I highly recommend it.
More Outstanding Pinot Noirs:
Amici 2013 Pinot Noir   Russian River Valley  $35 
Nice concentration of black cherry plus hints of raspberry make this Pinot quite enticing now--but a few years in bottle should broaden and deepen the complexity; very well-balanced, excellent length.  
Gary Farrell 2012, Russian River Valley, 
Excellent balance, very lush and  rich now but I can attest that these Pinots improve nicelhy with 3 or 4 years on them.
J Vineyards Misterra 2012,  Russian River Valley  Small amounts of  Pinot Meunier and Pinotage inform this deep, svelte limited production red -- most likely found on high-end restaurant wine lists. More widely available is  J Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($40) Seductive Russian River fruit envelops this Pinot as well--flavors of black raspberry and cherry in a compact frame of ripe tannins, good acidity; good length.
Trione 2011 Pinot Noir   RRV   Rich and dark with plush contours that make it quite enticing to drink now but well-balanced  to develop complexity with 3 to 5 years more in bottle.
Rodney Strong 2013 Pinot Noir  Sonoma Coast   Very young; big and full-bodied; appealing spicy fruit with prominent acidity.  A year or so in bottle will round that off nicely, but it worked well recently with a rich and somewhat fatty beef brisket.

         If you are out in in Sonoma, be sure to include the Russian River Valley on your itinerary. Just out from Santa Rosa is Russian Hill Vineyards, a wine estate that commands a spectacular view of the eastern portion of the valley, with vineyards stretching in all directions--a must-visit if you find yourself in or near Santa Rosa.
Russian Hill 2010, RR Valley, $35.  The basic Pinot from both estate and purchased grapes is a congenial and deliciously sippable red. If you want to introduce someone to the appeal of Pinot Noir, this is the place to start --a great choice for lighter meats, grilled porcini, or wild mushroom pastas.  Russian Hill 2011 Estate, $40, another excellent buy.

Russian Hill Tara Vineyard 2010.  This is my favorite Pinot from Russian Hill--consistently intriguing for its spicy fruit and excellent balance. The 2010 is quite beautiful, deeper and more structured than the other wines--intense dark cherry and ripe berry fruit with a nice grip of tannin and oak that accents but doesn't intrude. Probably even lovelier in two to three years, but try it now with roast duck or grilled duck breast. The 2011 Tara is out now.

*Musings on aging wine.....*
A question I'm often asked:  how do you know which wines improve with age, and which ones won't?
Not a quick answer, actually. Of course it's obvious with some wines--red Bordeaux in good vintages, California cabernets that cost more than $30 a bottle....serious syrahs, Rhône reds, Brunellos and Barolos, SuperTuscans, all are meant to improve with age and can do so 15, 20, 30 years, exhibiting complex aromas and flavors only hinted at in youth.
      Most red wines that are balanced will certainly improve with bottle age, anywhere from 2-3 years for moderately priced ($15 to $20+) merlots, pinot noirs, syrahs to 5, 7, or 10 years for similarly priced cabernets, bigger syrahs and merlots, cabernet franc, sangiovese, claret blends. Even wines meant to drink young will often hold or improve with a few years on them. Recently I opened a three-year-old Barbera with robust and concentrated flavors. It was a little tough and tannic the first night, but the next night it was perfect--smooth and round, the tannins mellowed, the fruit more forward.
       Some wine drinkers, however, like vigorous, muscular reds and like the tannin that gives the wines an edge. Chacun à son gout--to each his own taste.  Yet I've had more than one person in my wine classes say to me--"I really like big young reds, but after the first sip or two I find  I don't like them as much. Why is that?"  It's because with the first sip or two you get the rich, ripe fruit of a big wine....but then the tannin comes up hard, builds on the palate and the wine just can't give any more--it needs aging to evolve and give more of what it promised. See  B.E.'s Discoveries
       Time in bottle does what nothing else can. Over time, whether it's two or three years, or 10, chemical changes occur--tannins soften and precipitate out, pigments darken and eventually lighten, creating sediment. I always decant wines 10 years old or older. But then I often decant very young wines when they seem stiff and tannic--the aeration can open them up and soften the tannins--aging them in a sense. This is why when you open a young red that is too young and tight to really enjoy, it may taste better the next night....or the next. One that recently did:  Catena  Malbec from Argentina, dark and opaque, quite tannic, somewhat hard when we opened it. The next night it was much softer and more appealing.
          I make it a practice never to throw out  a young red until I've tasted it the second or third day--if it hasn't improved I can toss it, but sometimes it's a revelation.


Zins for hedonists.....

Sin Zin, Alexander Valley Vyds, $22, Alexander Valley, Sonoma. If the label doesn't seduce you, the wine in the bottle will--typically luxuriant ripe flavors and the heady aroma of blackberries, raspberries and black plums. Big and handsome, as this wine always is--powerful without being overwhelming.

Ridge Zinfandel Paso Robles, $28-30  Consistently a Ridge favorite. Bright, juicy berry flavors typical of Zins from the Paso Robles region on California's central coast; long finish,, very seductive.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel Somers Ranch--be on the lookout for this hugely concentrated, powerful Zin--not a lot of it made. The very essence of Dry Creek Zinfandel, with intense berry flavors, accents of black pepper enveloped in big, rich fruit. More plentiful is Dry Creek 2013 Heritage Zinfandel --I love this Zin-- less complex but full of berry flavors, very drinkable and appealing.

Old Vines.   Sonoma has some of the oldest stands of  Zinfandel  in existence. These wines don't yield much--I'm reminded of what Spencer Tracy said about Katherine Hepburn in "Pat and Mike" -- "ain't much meat on her, but what's there is cherce." That's how it is with these 60, 80, 100-year-old vines, gnarled and thick, yielding up nectarlike juice that lends unique character to wines labeled "Old Vine."  The first winery actually to use Old Vines on the label was Dry Creek Vineyards.  Dry Creek Old Vines Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, $25,  which is nicely packed with rustic blackberry and black raspberry fruit.
Other old-vine Zins to look for:  Quivira,  Cline, Rodney Strong Knotty Vines, Trentadue

                               NOTE:   prices are suggested retail; they may often be found for less online.

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©Barbara Ensrud