Carl Doumani sounded excited. He'd found a few bottles of one of his long lost favorite Petite Sirahs, the 1974 vintage from his Stag's Leap Winery days, and wanted to share it.
Contrarian Carl has always marched to his own beat. He bought the old Stag's Leap property in the early 1970s and made his first wine in 1972, opting for Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc just as Cabernet and Chardonnay were surging in popularity. He stuck with his guns, Petite being his favorite wine, but reluctantly bowed to market trends and added the aforementioned wines to his mix.
When he sold Stag's Leap in 1997, he had already made plans for his next winery, Quixote, which is on nearby property that he kept outside the sale. Naturally, he made Petite the star again.
But he always rightfully contended that Petite could age as well as any other red wine, and on occasion has poured verticals to demonstrate his point. With time, though, his supply of some vintages has dwindled. Not too long ago, he opened a 1974 Petite, and was thrilled by how well it showed.
One day he and his brother were talking about wine and his brother allowed that he had a small cache of the '74. Doumani couldn’t believe it. "I said to him, 'You dumb son-of-a-bitch, I told you to drink that 10 years ago,'" Doumani recalled with a hearty laugh. Turned out that his brother's supply was in pristine condition, better than Carl's, so Doumani has been tapping his brother's supply of '74s as often as possible.
"We used to make wines that were largely undrinkable for the first 10 years," Doumani, who is 76, said yesterday as he had both the 1974 and 1988 vintages decanted for lunch at Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa, one of valley’s best restaurants.
Both wines were in amazing condition. The '74 showed its age with a whisper of oxidation, but also a wealth of sweet, elegant, floral, plum and black cherry flavors that took on a dried blackberry jam quality with aeration. I rated it 94 points, non-blind. Bottle variation has been an issue with this wine, Doumani said, adding that his brother's cellar had been kinder to the wines than his own cellar which, he added, was superior.
The 1988 was in beautiful shape, the best I've seen it in several tastings, with a 94-point non-blind rating. This was from a much lesser vintage, and when I looked back at my notes for both of these wines over the years, they were not showy on release, but gained depth and complexity with time. For the record, the 1998 was intense, vibrant and even grapey, with wonderful depth, structure, focus and persistence.
To taste wines over time and see how they evolve, surprise or disappoint is what makes wine such a fascinating subject, and after tasting with him, I knew why Doumani was so excited about finding his long lost friend.
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