The early 1990′s marked the emergence of a new “hedonistic” style in Napa Valley. With the likes of Harlan, Bryant Family and Maya, the “Cult Cabernet” scene was born and in the subsequent years, consumers have been blessed with more expressions of Cabernet than ever before. In short, it’s been a great time to be an enthusiast of California wines. That said, with the proliferation of today’s up-and-coming properties producing this newer style of wine, I felt it might be nice to share my impressions of some older examples, whose grace and subtlety are often overlooked. Not long ago I had the opportunity to sample several older “Classics” from California.
- 1973 Heitz Wine Cellars, Napa
- 1974 Freemark Abbey, Bosché Vineyard
- 1978 Chateau Montelena
- 1980 Beaulieu Vineyard, Georges de Latour, “Private Reserve”
- 1986 Clos Du Val
- 1988 Mayacamas
The general commentary included descriptors such as balanced, clean, fresh and surprisingly youthful. For me, it was the lively acidity that was so clearly evident throughout. Some may describe this attribute as resulting in a “light” wine, but I think that it is an indication of balance. The color was consistently medium to deep ruby with only a couple of bottles displaying a brickish rim. No opaque wines here. No high alcohol levels. Youthful, deep red fruit notes coupled with good concentration and depth. Some wines were more expressive (Mayacamas, Montelena, Beaulieu Vineyard), some a touch one dimensional (Freemark Abbey) and some real sleepers (Clos du Val). The acidity contributed to the refreshing drinkability throughout. Most examples had nice depth. Not the ordinary monolithic character you might expect from older Cabs. In short, these solid examples were beyond age-able and were, in fact, age-worthy.
Let me elaborate: There has been plenty of conversation surrounding the age-ability of California wines. Are they simply age-able or are they age-worthy? I must confess that I generally think of California wines being the former- that is to say that, while their appearance is youthful and their fruit lively, merely “age-able” wines tend to be one-dimensional on the palate. This tasting, however, reinforced for me the value of extended ageing amongst some of California’s classics. These wines exhibited youthfulness in appearance while also displaying nuanced depth and concentration on the palate.
In summary, here are the upsides of enjoying an older California Classic:
- Great value – many well-under $125/btl
- Great for pairing with food
- Great balance = easy drinking
- Great education
- Great bottle for a week night!
So, when you finally receive an allocation letter from your new favorite California Cabernet producer, maybe you’ll be reminded to pull a California Classic from the cellar to enjoy with dinner. If you’re interested in adding some depth to your California wine collection, Hart Davis Hart has you covered: shop our online retail selection, or place your bids for Cali classics at our December auction!