Search Articles

Please Share

FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksRedditTechnoratiLinkedin

Sponsors

Sponsors

Most Read Articles

General Interest

Which California Counties Added the Most Vineyard Acreage in the Past Five Years?

California_Wines_logoIn honor of California Wine Month, I'll be providing a variety of details about the scope of the state's wine industry. Last week, I published California Wine by the Numbers. Today, We'll look at growth in vineyard acreage. Tomorrow, I'll highlight those wine grape varieties seeing the biggest growth.

California’s wine industry is growing not just in sales volume, but also acres under vine. In the past five years, California added 76,651 acres of wine grape vineyards, an increase of 17.5% from 2006. The expansion is broad-based. High-volume growing areas added vines, but so did the highest-quality regions. No county experienced a decrease. The biggest increases in acreage came in counties that already had substantial plantings.

The 12 California Counties which Added the Most Vineyard Acreage, 2007 - 2011

County

Acres Added

Total Acreage in 2011

San Joaquin

10,783

71,403

Fresno

9,651

41,808

Monterey

9,595

45,110

Sonoma

8,777

57,056

Napa

7,332

45,801

San Luis Obispo

5,193

30,720

Madera

3,418

35,334

Sacramento

3,192

19,486

Kern

2,934

21,093

Yolo

2,905

12,632

Santa Barbara

2,537

17,178

Mendocino

2,092

17,173

[Only one other county, Merced, added more than 1,000 acres.]

Fast Fact: San Luis Obispo County has nearly 31,000 acres of vineyards. That's almost as much as New York State (approximately 32,000 acres).


As you might expect, counties with the largest percentage growth in vineyard acreage over the past five years are relatively low in plantings overall. Marin County, which is emerging as a very good cool-climate growing region, boosted its vineyard land by nearly 66% but is still well under 200 acres overall. Other small, yet high-quality, growing areas with significant growth are El Dorado and Santa Cruz counties. Surprisingly, Fresno and Monterey counties, among California’s biggest growers of wine grapes, managed to increase their plantings by roughly 25%.

The 14 California Counties which Increased Vineyard Acreage by more than 20%, 2007 - 2011 

County

Percent Increase

Total Acreage in 2011

Marin

65.6

167

Colusa

39.1

1,577

Riverside

33.4

1,039

Shasta

33.3

98

San Benito

31.3

2,616

Glenn

29.3

1,046

Calaveras

28.2

675

Contra Costa

27.8

1,878

Yolo

25.5

12,632

Fresno

25.3

41,808

Monterey

24

45,110

El Dorado

22.4

1,847

Santa Cruz

22

445

Solano

21.4

3,560


The 6 Counties with Zero Growth in Vineyard Acreage

County

Acres Under Vine

Kings

1,541

Mariposa

57

Orange

1

Sutter

99

Tuolumne

30

Ventura

52

 

Source: The raw data was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service

 

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 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Mendocino Sparkles

”We’re trying to be a picnic wine, not trying to be fancy,” Signal Ridge Vineyard owner Roger Scommegna told me as I sipped his non-vintage Signal Ridge Bubbles last Sunday night. “There are already world-class sparkling wines here, like Roederer Estate. We’re trying to be Mendocino-like.” His demeanor is totally Mendocino, as is his sparkler. But despite being priced for picnics, Bubbles will be just fine for the dinner table or fancier affairs.

signal ridge vineyard
An aerial photo of the Signal Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge AVA. Photo by Signal Ridge.

There were a few Mendocino vintners last week who mentioned wanting to disgorge sparkling wine from the golden-moments-only mindset. “People will drink a $15 to $20 still wine any day of the week,” Zac Robinson, proprietor of Husch Vineyards and president of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc., observed. “But they think sparkling wine at the same price needs a special occasion.”

He’s right. Sure, there are people without that bias. I’ve got friends who go bubbly more often than not. But they’re a very small minority.

I suspect much of the blame lies with the highly successful marketing of France’s Champagne houses. Over the past few decades they have just about convinced people that no celebration is complete without sparkling wine. That, coupled with the preceding reputation of Champagne as a drink for royalty and upper class soirées, has had the unintended consequence of tying sparkling wine so closely with festivities as to make it seem inappropriate for everyday drinking.

I view Scommegna’s comments to be aimed at opening minds, not capping his wine’s potential. Brisk sales of relatively inexpensive Cava and Prosecco have been busting the stereotype already. Driven by those bottlings and the growing market for crisp wines of moderate alcohol, sparkling wine is starting to become “a thing” with “new California winemakers” now. Soon, you’ll be seeing a lot more releases by producers, from Mendocino to Santa Barbara, who have previously been focused solely on still wine.

Here are four sparkling wines from Mendocino County—all methode traditionelle—I enjoyed last week. (My tastings last week didn’t include Roederer Estate or Scharffenberger Cellars so their wines aren’t included in this article.)

signal ridge bubblesNV Signal Ridge Bubbles Brut, $25 ($99 for a half-case)
Bubble is a mélange of chalk, lemon, green apple, stone fruit and delicate spice on the nose. A sip brings a creamy mousse with a light touch of sweetness that quickly subsides leaving a clean mouthfeel with flavors of lemon pith, green apple, spice and steely minerality. I like it quite a bit and, at just $99 for a half-case, it really can be an every day wine. Single bottles sell for $25, so six-pack is definitely the way to go. Recommended+

2006 Handley Cellars Brut Rosé, Estate Vineyard Anderson Valley, $40
A richly creamy mousse gives this sparkling wine body that feels medium+ but is well-balanced by juicy acidity. The delicious aromas and flavors include dried ginger, cream, yellow apple, lemon curd and strawberry. Highly Recommended

2003 Handley Cellars Brut, $ inquire, tasting room only
Zippy acidity coupled with flavors of toast, chai spice (especially cardamom) and green apple. Very good now but capable of building complexity with further bottle age. Because this wine is nearly sold-out it’s sold only at the winery and not available for tasting. Recommended+

NV McFadden Farm Cuvée Brut, $25
This 50-50 blend of organically-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay spent two-and-a-half years on the lees. (It’s billed as NV but is essentially a 2009.) A little riper and sweeter, but with plenty of acidity, the McFadden Farm sparkling wine will be a versatile partner for food. Flavors include creamy pear, pear skin and baking spice. Recommended
(You might enjoy this recent SF Chronicle review of the McFadden Farm tasting room too.)

Interpreting my wine ratings

 

Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The reviews above reflect my personal experience with the product. This is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook 

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. Signal Ridge label photo by The Bubbly Girl. All rights reserved.

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.

Good Wine: A Matter of Degrees?

Chardonnay_grapes_close_upI tried a wine the other day at a walk-around trade tasting. It was an unoaked California Chardonnay. The winemaker poured it for me from the bottle displayed on the table.

I brought the glass to my nose with an open mind. The wine’s aromas surprised me: powerful but with an odd green figgy note. I took a sip. The wine was heavier than I anticipated, very round and without texture. The flavors were similar to the nose with fruit that was simultaneously green and cloyingly ripe. I was seriously disappointed.

I had been anticipating — perhaps even hoping for — a crisp wine with taut flavors. I expected green flavors, but wanted them to be of green apple and citrus. The winemaker said he strives to deliver minerality. I had gotten some, but it was too much like the aroma of an empty beer can. The wine was not something I’d recommend.

Later, I was standing near the same table when a women walked up. “Thank you so much,” she said to the winemaker. “This unoaked Chardonnay is my favorite wine of the tasting.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. “Either her taste is waaaay different than mine or I’m missing something.”

A few minutes later, I ran into someone who’s opinion on wines I value highly. He’s a master sommelier with an excellent knowledge of Burgundy. “Could you do me a favor?” I asked him. “Try that unoaked Chardonnay over there and let me know what you think.”

The master somm came back to me a few minutes later. “Thanks so much for turning me onto that wine,” he enthused. “It was really good. Exactly what I look for in an unoaked Chardonnay.” A storm of question marks and exclamation points burst over my head.

I walked directly over to that table again. “May I try the unoaked Chardonnay again,” I asked the winemaker. “Absolutely,” he said. Then he reached under the table and pulled a bottle from an ice bucket hidden behind the tablecloth. He poured. I sniffed. Tart fruit, citrus with a hint of tropical, limestone and steel.

I took a sip. The wine was very cool and fresh with a light, chalky texture. The flavors were crisp and the body medium-minus. It was a really good wine.

The difference, in this case, between a bad wine and and a good one was a matter of degrees — Fahrenheit. It’s impossible to know exactly, but I’d say the wine I tasted first was at about 62°. That’s an appropriate temperature for medium- to full-bodied red wines but too warm for most whites. The second pour was closer to 50°, the proper temperature for light- and medium-bodied white wines.

The difference in both temperature and perceived quality was extreme in this particular case. A delta of as little as three degrees can make a significant difference in the way a wine smells, tastes and feels. Warmer temperatures emphasize sweetness, ripeness of fruit, oak and alcohol. Cooler temperatures enhance the perception of acidity, tart fruit and minerality while making the body seem lighter.

You can easily experiment with this at home. Pop one of your favorite wines into the refrigerator for an hour. Take it back out and pour some in a glass. Give it a try, thinking about the aromas, taste and mouthfeel. Keep trying the wine at 15 minute intervals as it warms up in your glass. Experiment with a few different wines and you’ll soon find the temperature zones you prefer for different styles of wine.

For more specific advice on the best temperatures for different types of wine, and for other tips on serving wine, take a look at this article: Serving Wine.

By the way, I’m very happy to recommend the 2010 Joyce Vineyards “Stele” Chardonnay Monterey County ($16, 13.7% alcohol). It’s made solely from Dijon clone Chardonnay from the Franscioni Vineyard, fermented cold in stainless steel tanks. There was no malolactic fermentation, oak aging or stirring of lees. Serve it well-chilled.

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 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo of Chardonnay grapes by Dan Random. All rights reserved.

Recapping an Epic Tasting of 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon

Why taste of a bunch of wines from all the way back in 1968? Is it a stunt or for bragging rights? No, it’s for the love of wine and the history of wine. My friend, Rich Meinecke, who organized the tasting and sourced almost all of the wines put it this way.

“Why 1968? It was a watershed vintage for California and Napa Valley, showing California could make world class wines. We see the emergence of ”boutique“ wineries (Heitz, Robert Mondavi and Mayacamas) to challenge and perhaps even surpass the big five (Inglenook, Krug, Martini, BV, Beringer). It was also the ”Wild West" period of California winemaking. Winemakers were willing to take chances.

I’ve tried to find wines that would still be alive, significant, educational and interesting. I want to look at the age-ability of California wines and set a benchmark for comparison to today’s wines. Do the old school wines age better? Are they more enjoyable when aged? Does it matter?"

I would add that some of these wines have historical significance beyond their mere age and the vintage overall, the last vintage at Ridge before Paul Draper’s arrival and the very first “Late Harvest” Zinfandel. Here’s what we tasted (the links take you to the commentary on each wine in this article):

1968 Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma County
1968 Louis M Martini Pinot Noir Private Reserve
1968 Inglenook Charbono
1968 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de la Tour Private Reserve Napa Valley
1968 Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon Haraszthy Cellars Cask 102 Sonoma County
1968 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard Napa Valley
1968 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Cask H–12 Napa Valley
1968 Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Selection Cesare Mondavi Napa Valley
1968 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Unfined Napa Valley
1968 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello
1968 Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
1968 Mayacamas Zinfandel Late Harvest
1957 Ficklin NV Port

Hanzell Martini Charbono
"Starter" wines for the tasting of 1968 Cabernet Sauvignons. Photo: Fred Swan

About the 1968 Vintage
1968 was a warm, but long, growing season. There were some significant heat spikes, with one in late August and two in late September leading to sudden acceleration of ripeness. In some cases, such as Mayacamas’ Zinfandel, the spikes resulted in some raisining. Nonetheless, Stephen Brook characterizes grapes to have been “clean, intense and well-balanced.” He believes 1968 to have been the best vintage for California Cabernet Sauvignon since 1947.[1]

About our Tasting Venue, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
Finally, before I proceed to the wines, I want to express my appreciation to The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards for being such an excellent host for the tastings Rich and I have been holding over the past few years. Their private, downstairs dining room is a perfect venue for up to 18 people. The service is simultaneously friendly and professional, the food is delicious.

Fried Green TomatoesPork Chop
Crispy fried green tomatoes and Wente's signature smoked pork chop were among the excellent dishes for our dinner. Photos: Fred Swan

 1968 Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma County
This wine was made by Brad Webb (d. 1999), Hanzell’s founding winemaker. The winery had closed down in about 1964 but re-opened under new ownership in 1967. Webb returned as winemaker while also taking on those duties at Freemark Abbey where he had become part owner.[2]

At Hanzell, Webb helped pioneer numerous winemaking techniques, including controlled malolactic fermentation, the use of glass-lined stainless steel fermentation tanks and the use of inert gas to prevent oxidation.

I don’t know exactly how he made the Chardonnay in 1968. My understanding is that it was probably old Wente clone fruit. Regardless, in this tasting intended to highlight Cabernet Sauvignon, Hanzell’s bright, powerful and delicious Chardonnay was so good that I’d have been content to drink nothing but that all night. Seriously.

The wine is amber with medium- color intensity, a water-white rim and some haziness. The nose is concentrated and lovely, showing baked pear and golden apple, baking spice, fresh herb and sweet cream. After a few moments, caramel and apricot upside-down cake emerged.

The palate is full-bodied and juicy with vibrant flavors of apricot, baking spice, pear and peach plus a talc-like texture. The wine stayed strong in the glass all night, developing additional nuances—one taster suggested Bananas Foster. The only negative note was some heat on the palate from alcohol. James Laube gave this 91 points in 1990. Today, I’m a point or two higher, Highly Recommended+.

 1968 Louis M Martini Pinot Noir Private Reserve
This wine was made by Louis P. Martini who studied winemaking at U. C. Berkeley and U. C. Davis[3] before taking over for his father in 1954. He passed the reins to his own son, Michael, in 1977. Though I can’t confirm it with certainty, I’ve been told that the grapes for this wine probably came from Stanly Ranch in Carneros.

Louis M. Martini (d. 1974) purchased 200 acres of the Stanly Ranch vineyard in 1942. He started experimenting with clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay there in 1948. Those trials continued through the 1950’s with some participation from the Wente family and U.C. Davis. Martini purchased additional Carneros acreage in the early 1960’s. Rich Meinecke says the old Martini Pinot Noir sometimes included some Pinot St. George (aka Nègrette).

Light garnet in the glass, the 1968 Louis Martini Pinot Noir was wholly tertiary throughout the evening: sanguine, earth, dark spice, old cigar box and shiitake mushrooms. The medium-bodied palate retains acidity and moderate talc-like tannins. The finish is quite long, maintaining flavors of earth, mushroom, dry herb and soy. While not a palette of tastes today’s Pinot drinkers expect, it is an interesting and enjoyable wine that would pair well with some umami-laden Japanese foods. Rich took the remains of the bottle home and tells me it blossomed overnight, showing some fruit and other youthful aspects. That said, drink ’em if you’ve got ’em.

 1968 Inglenook Charbono
The inclusion of Charbono in this tasting was a bit of a lark. Rich thought it would be fun to try, but I don’t think any of us was aware of the reputation Charbono used to have as an age-worthy varietal. I discovered in post-tasting research that members of the Inglenook Charbono Society routinely held bottles for decades and found that forty year-old wines looked and tasted half their age.

Our experience bore that out as this Inglenook was the surprise of the night and one of the evening’s most persistently pleasing wines. The color is still predominantly ruby, though there’s hints of orange at the rim. The nose is of baked red cherries and baking spice. The palate is nearly full-bodied, predominantly from fruit as the tannins and alcohol were both moderate. Rich flavors of baked cherry, baking spice, sanguine, earth, blackberry and chocolate kept us sipping. Recommended

BV Buena Vista Heitz
California icons stood toe to toe.
Photo: Fred Swan

 1968 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de la Tour Private Reserve Napa Valley
I had big hopes for this wine. One of Napa Valley’s “Big Five” Cabernet Sauvignon producers, Beaulieu Vineyards has consistently been an excellent producer. The flagship Georges de la Tour is particularly solid. Last year, we tried a 1958. It was vigorous and full of ripe fruit.

Our 1968 hadn’t weathered that well, but was still enjoyable. The color is medium+ garnet and the nose gives cause for concern, offering only Worcestershire and celery salt. The palate is much more attractive though. Flavors include chocolate, brown spice, raisin and Christmas plum cake. There are moderate, talc-like tannins, medium+ body and a finish that’s long and full of juicy fruit. Drink right away.

 1968 Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon Haraszthy Cellars Cask 102 Sonoma County
There’s a long, long history of Cabernet Sauvignon in Sonoma County and who better to represent that than California’s first commercial, quality-focused winery, Buena Vista. Perhaps the magical revitalization Jean-Charles Boisset and his team have worked on the winery and its grounds sent positive energy to this bottle. It was a winner. Still light ruby in color, it blends flavors of fruit and development. Appealing aromas of cherry and drying leaves are followed by saliva-generating sweet/tart cherry and brown spice. Medium+ body, moderate talc-like tannins and a long finish completed the satisfying experience. At its developmental peak, drink now through 2016. Highly Recommended

 1968 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard Napa Valley
Joseph Heitz is thought to be the second California producer to bottle vineyard-designated wine, the first being Ridge (Monte Bello). Heitz Cellar designated a Pinot Noir in 1967. 1968 was the debut for the Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Martha’s Vineyard is located in Oakville and was originally planted in the 1950s. An aroma of eucalyptus, stronger in some years than others, is considered a hallmark of the vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Joseph Heitz was known to get quite upset when people characterized the wine that way though. He considered the aroma purely in keeping with the traditional Cabernet.

Bam! Cabernet of the night. Ruby, ruby in the glass with just the slightest tinge of garnet at the rim. The nose is irresistible with moist earth, red cherry, coffee and a delicate spray of eucalyptus Cabernet Sauvignon typicity. Full-bodied and delicious in the mouth, the flavors of tart, black cherry, earth and mint are fresh. Moderate tannins and acidity remain. This wine’s probably got a good decade ahead of it, but why wait? Very Highly Recommended

 1968 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Cask H–12 Napa Valley
From the sublime to the… brunch wine? Bottles of wine are like people, you never really know exactly how long they’ll live or what they’ll be like when they’ve hit their 45th birthday. The mystery was even greater for this bottle than many. Inglenook was, of course, another one of the big five. Under John Daniels Jr., the winery produced some of California’s most celebrated Cabernet Sauvignon. A bottle from 1963 that I tasted with Rich earlier in the week totally delivered.

Daniels sold the winery’s name and about 75 acres in 1964. He stayed on as a consultant for a time but the new owners, Allied Growers/United Vintners, soon showed an interest in volume over quality. Drinks giant Heublein bought them out in 1969 and continued the trend. It’s unclear who made this wine which was vinified under one owner, then aged and blended under another. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t John Daniels Jr. though. It’s also hard to say where the fruit came from.

I called this a brunch wine because, all flavors wrapped into one, it smells and tastes like a Bloody Mary: Worcestershire, celery salt, tomato juice and even a grind of black pepper. I made that observation aloud, prompting journalist and wine-industry veteran Cy Musiker to suggest I was describing the wine accurately yet somehow making it sound better than it actually was. Fair enough. The bottle was D.O.A. Next!

 1968 Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Selection Cesare Mondavi Napa Valley
Yet another member of the Big Five and perhaps the one that gets less attention than it deserves. I’ve tasted of a number of long-aged Krug recently (1950’s and 1960’s). Profile and quality vary with the vintage but they’ve all been quite good. And, like the other four producers, Krug is still making very good wine.

This particular bottle was in excellent shape with a nose of sandalwood and exotic spice plus both red and black cherry. Fruit on the juicy palate was tart, yet jammy, red cherry along with brown spice and tobacco. Good for another 5 years. Highly Recommended+

 1968 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Unfined Napa Valley
Robert Mondavi Winery was founded in 1966 and released it's first release came in 1968.[4] 1968 was also the year Mondavi bought 500 acres of the legendary To Kalon Vineyard.[1] Beginning in 1971, the Robert Mondavi Winery Unfined Cabernet Sauvignon wines were marketed as “Reserve.”[4]

Another well-preserved 45-year old, our ’68 Mondavi Unfiltered was deeply-colored and only just garnet at the rim. The nose showed sweet black currant, brown spice and tobacco. The palate was medium+ in body with matching acidity and tannins, light and chalky. Flavors included tart raspberry and red cherry, spice and loads of caramel, all of which lingered generously. It will hold for a few years yet. Highly Recommended+

68 Mondavi Cabernet
When this label was printed, paint was still fresh on the now famous Robert Mondavi Winery building it depicts.
Photo: Fred Swan

 1968 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello
Founding Ridge winemaker David Bennion [d. 1988] produced this wine in the historic winery/barn that’s attached to the current tasting room.[5] (Paul Draper joined the company in 1969 and didn’t assume all winemaking responsibilities until 1971.[6])

Crystalline ruby in the glass, this amazingly fresh wine delighted with its combination of vibrant fruit and tertiary notes. Aromas of black currant, red cherry and forest floor led into flavors red cherry, tangy red berries and cigar box. Medium+ body, acidity and talc-like tannins plus a lengthy finish. This was, with the Heitz, very clearly one of the two best Cabernets of the night. However, the Ridge didn’t weather an evening’s worth of air in the glass as well as the Napa wine so it mightn’t have as many strong years ahead of it. Very Highly Recommended

68 Ridge Monte Bello
Fun numbers: 2,300 feet, 1968 vintage, 12.7% alcohol.
Photo: Fred Swan

 1968 Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Souverain, now located in Alexander Valley, was founded by Lee Stewart [d. 1986] on Howell Mountain in 1944. The derelict winery and vineyards he bought then had originated in 1884 as the Fulgencio Rossini estate.[6] Stewart sold to investors in 1970 who themselves sold the property to Tom Burgess in 1973. It’s been the home of Burgess Cellars ever since.

Wines from that vineyard are thought to be especially age-worthy and this particular wine had held up pretty well. Our bottle of 1968 Souverain Cabernet was fully-mature with aromas of moist earth, porcini mushrooms, soy and zesty herb. The palate was still full-bodied with chalky, medium+ tannins and juicy berry flavors. Drink Now. Recommended+

Mayacamas Ficklin
A great finish.
Photo: Fred Swan

 1968 Mayacamas Zinfandel Late Harvest
1968 was the year Robert (Bob) and Elinor Travers purchased the Mayacamas Vineyard and winery from the Taylor family which had operated it since 1941. Travers’ 1968 Mayacamas Zinfandel was late harvest by circumstance rather than intent. By the time there was an empty fermentation tank to accommodate that year’s Zin, the grapes had begun to raisin. Travers and his winemaker, Bob Sessions, who later took over winemaking at Hanzell, nonetheless fermented the wine dry. The result was a delicious, concentrated wine of 17.3% alcohol. That was the first time a Zinfandel had been labeled “Late Harvest” and was tasty enough to inspire others, including Paul Draper at Ridge, to emulate the style.[1]

Our bottle of ’68 Late Harvest Zinfandel held a wine just turning garnet and smelling of cherries, raspberries and… vinyl. All thoughts of pool toys disappeared with a sip though. The wine was full-bodied and long with sleek tannins and beautiful, vivacious flavors of kirsch and candied cherry. Absolutely delicious and likely good for another decade. Very Highly Recommended

 1957 Ficklin NV Port
Walter Ficklin Jr. planted his family's first vines in 1945. From the outset, Ficklin Vineyards aimed to make Port-style wine. By 1948, their Madera County vineyard held 15 acres of Alvarelhao, Souzao, Tinta Cao, Tinta Madeira and Touriga. Walter Jr.’s brother, David Ficklin, had studied fermentation science at U. C. Davis and made the family’s wines.

It might seem odd to see a year on the label of non-vintage “Port.” In this case it designates the final vintage included in the mix. The wine is a solera-style blend, primarily of Tinta Madeira (aka Tinta Negra Mole or Negramoll)[7], from vintages 1948 through 1957. It was bottled in 1960 and released in 1968. An attractive nose of creamy raisin leads to a much more complex palate with intense flavors of sweet baking spice, brown sugar, golden raisins, white chocolate and hazelnut that go on and on. It’s a full-bodied wine, sweet and fortified to 20% alcohol but without perceptible heat. Fully-developed but will hold for ages. Highly Recommended+

Conclusions
It’s impossible to know now whether or not California’s most iconic Cabernet Sauvignon of the 1960’s were more age-worthy than those made in the 1980’s, 1990’s or today. We have to see how the more recent wines last. However, this tasting proved once again that California’s best vineyards and wineries have the potential to make wines with tremendous aging potential.

Does it matter? That’s up to you. Consumer tastes have changed as has our willingness to cellar wines. New techniques in the vineyard and the winery have also made it possible to produce wines that are accessible immediately while retaining the ability to develop well over an extended period of time. Those people who do enjoy the complexity, tertiary flavors and graceful structure of thoroughly aged landmark wines shouldn’t hesitate to buy bottles when such as those above when they turn up at reasonable prices.

Note: An earlier version of this article stated that 1968 was the first vintage for Mondavi. In actuality, 1968 was when they first released a wine, but it was from the 1966 vintage.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. All rights reserved.


  1. Brook, Stephen. The Wines of California. Faber & Faber, 1999  ↩

  2. Laube, James. “Brad Webb, Pioneer of California Chardonnay, Dies” Wine Spectator October 4, 1999  ↩

  3. Adams, Leon. The Wines of America, third edition. McGraw Hill, 1985  ↩

  4. Lewin, Benjamin. Clarets and Cabs: The Story of Cabernet Sauvignon. Vendange Press, 2013  ↩

  5. Bonné, Jon. “Monte Bello Through the Years” SFGate.com March 9, 2010  ↩

  6. Sullivan, Charles L. “A Companion to California Wine”. University of California Press, 1998  ↩

  7. Robinson, Jancis, Harding, Julia and Vouillamoz, José. Wine Grapes. Harper Collins, 2012.  ↩