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California Cabernet Aging Potential - It’s Not About the Years, it’s the Character

People, especially Americans, put undo focus on some numbers. Every week news outlets tell us which movies had the biggest box office revenue. They don’t tell us what the films are about or if they’re any good. Morning shows tell us who is celebrating a 100th birthday. We don't learn what those people are like, what they accomplished or who loves them.

Contemporary California wines, Cabernet Sauvignon blends in particular, are often dismissed as wines that won’t age well. They are too high in alcohol, have too much sweet fruit, not enough acidity, etc. The complaint is frequently dismissive. “Sure, people like them, but they won’t age.” The subtext being that the wines are therefore inferior and so, perhaps, are the palates of those who drink them.

I was thinking about this as I sipped my way through the Taste of Oakville yesterday. 47 wineries from one of this country’s premier AVA’s were pouring their current releases. More than a few of them get that “won’t age” label. But some producers popped library wines, giving me the opportunity to see exactly how those wines have aged. Obviously, nobody was going to offer a wine that hadn’t held up, but the wines still gave a glimpse at the longevity of their general styles.

Before I get into how the wines were doing though, lets ask two questions, 1) What do we mean by “won’t age?” and 2) Who cares? The last question is at least half serious.

To me, saying a wine won’t age means one of two things. The first is that the wine simply won’t get any better than it is during the first three years or so after release. It won’t develop interesting tertiary flavors, the fruit will go away, etc. This may seem like a damning indictment but in reality the vast majority of wines made are not intended to improve with bottle age. Beyond that, most wine drinkers—including those buying expensive, genuinely age-worthy bottles—drink their wines fairly young. So the answer to the second question in this case is that most people don’t care most of the time, but people who love a good well-aged wine may care a lot.

The second meaning of “won’t age” is more a matter of degree. The wine will age, it just won’t last as long as a reference Bordeaux or Burgundy, or an iconic California wine from 30+ years ago. Here, the answer to the second question is that virtually nobody should care and one could argue it’s actually a good thing. A good thing? Yes.

As much as we love numbers, history and the cool factor of drinking something bottled before Paul McCartney met John Lennon, it should be the wine’s character that matters. Enjoy the complex aromas, developed flavors and elegant mouthfeel of the aged wine. Don’t dwell on how long it took them to appear. And, if you’re on the far side of 50, you may appreciate not having to wait another 40 years for your new purchases to reach their peak.

All that said, how were the Oakville Cabs aging? Nicely, by and large. They are indeed developing tertiary flavors faster than wines from days gone by. However, these contemporary wines had the virtue of having been drinkable upon release. Many long-lasting wines from days of yore were not. In addition, the best of today’s library wines look like they’ll last a good while longer.

Here were my favorite library wines from the 2013 Taste of Oakville (by vintage):

RMW Reserve CabSauv Lg2006 Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon - Drying leaves, black currant and vanilla. Full-body, moderate acidity and medium-plus chalky tannins. A very good wine today from a vintage that may lack aging potential overall. Drink soon. Highly Recommended+.

2001 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Slightly raisined black currant, drying leaves, spice and chocolate. Nearly full-bodied with moderate acidity and a good measure of fine, powdery tannins plus some chalk. Quite long. Drink now through 2020. Very Highly Recommended.

1995 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon - Intensely flavorful with lightly raisined black currant, forest floor, spice and graphite. Nearly full-bodied and juicy, very fine grained tannins. A gorgeous wine. One of my two or three favorite wines of the day, young or old. Drink now through 2023. Very Highly Recommended

1986 Johnson Turnbull “Selection 67” Cabernet Sauvignon (6L) - Drying leaves, dried currant and spice. Medium-plus body, acidity and tannins (fine powder). Just 13.2% alcohol. Holding up well but smaller format bottles would likely be past peak. Drink now. Highly Recommended.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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