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.....

*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. Don't cheat yourself--if you buy such wines, buy at least one extra to age....and see what miracles time can work.
      Most red wines that are balanced will certainly improve with bottle age, anywhere from 2-4 years for moderately priced ($20+) merlots, pinot noirs, syrahs to 5, 7, or 10 years (and longer!) 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--a hint at what 4-7 years in bottle would do.
       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 or 20, 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. A few years in bottle, 5 to 7, would also do that.
          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.

Wines Worth Cellaring:

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) but also roast pork loin or grilled medallions.
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.  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, 2020-2025.  The 2015 Klopp promises similar excitement!
       Oh, the delights of aging!
NOTE:  If you're out in the Russian River Valley, put Merry Edwards Winery on your list to visit. The winery is one of the handsomest in Sonoma--not to mention the wines!  Don't miss the Sauvignon Blanc--possibly the best in America.   www.merryedwards.com


Cabernet Sauvignon.  California's great ager--I'm still enjoying 1991s, which are gorgeous right now (see B.E.'s Discoveries)
Jordan 2010 CabernetJordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley.  The balance of Jordan Cabernets makes them accessible when young, but they age with distinction and show the finesse that fine Cabernets can achieve.
It's why Jordan Cabernet often holds the #1 spot on restaurant wine lists.

Syrah and Rhône Blends   These wines, whether from France, Australia or California have the capacity to age beautifully, like Australia's Holy Trinity (see Discoveries)  and impressively (Hermitage, Penfolds Grange). Every cellar should stock a few, such as this one: 
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volante 2018   Central Coast  $35-45***  The Doon's version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a plush-textured blend
of grenache, cinsaut and syrah.


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 with Zin fans. Bright, juicy berry flavors typical of Zins from the Paso Robles region on California's central coast; long finish,, very seductive. Ridge Geyserville, $40, is more complex--that touch of mataro (mourvedre)--
The very essence of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, with intense berry flavors, accents of black pepper enveloped in big, rich fruit comes through in Zins from Dry Creek Vineyard, one of the earliest to focus on Zinfandel. It's plentiful in Dry Creek Heritage Zinfandel about $26--I love this Zin--full of berry flavors, very drinkable and appealing.

Well-made, well-balanced Zins can age extremely well, becoming smooth, complex and, surprisingly, rather claret-like.  Tuck away a bottle or two and see for yourself.

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©Barbara Ensrud