Midway through what amounted to a cellar cleansing, my friend Ms. V sighed, “God, do I have a lot of swill in here or what?”
Ms. V is a hip wine drinker, with a first-class collection and plenty of gems, stored under prefect cellar conditions in her home in Sonoma. Since she’s still a buyer with her name on several hard-to-get-on mailing lists, I’m protecting her identity for this blog and using our experience in the spirit of warning you not to ignore your cellar. She (or he) who hesitates, or forgets about bottles altogether, loses perfectly good wines.
Ms. V had asked for advice about some of the older wines in her cellar and some she had forgotten about. We poked through one bin with great vintages of Araujo, Peter Michael, Beaux Frères, Pahlmeyer, Whitehall Lane and a couple of 1989 Bordeaux, all of which should be excellent.
And then there were the surprises—wines she barely remembered buying, except their appellations suggested they were purchased on location, out of state. These are often the kinds of wines you buy on vacation, when the wine tastes great at the winery but is less inspiring back home.
Worse, bottles of 1974 Robert Mondavi and Simi Cabernet had gone unnoticed for, well, decades. And there were plenty of 15-year-old Chardonnays that appeared to be oxidized, with wine that had turned a golden color. Oh, my, Ms. V groaned as she put those bottles in the “don’t-even-give-away” pile. Grrrr.
One of her worst memories: lots of Kistler Chardonnays from the 1990s that aged poorly.
The most alarming find was her cache of 1998 Cabernets, including a case each of 1998 BV Private Reserve and Tapestry, gifts from a friend. At best these are both controversial wines from a difficult vintage. At their worst they are, for me, essentially undrinkable, due to their TCA taint.
All collectors have bottles of wine that they’ve ignored or forgotten, I assured her, and she was able to laugh at her benign neglect. She is, after all, a wine connoisseur and letting some of these wines expire is a waste of money.
As we wrapped up the cellar reorganization and purging we came across a bin of Turley Zinfandels from Dogtown Vineyard in Lodi, vintage 1997. Ms. V had about eight bottles, and I suggested she give at least a couple of them a try. So as the sun set and evening settled in, and her three big black canines raced around the backyard, she grilled chicken brats and we opened the ’97 Dogtown, making it a three-dog event.
I figured the wine might be a dead shoulder. But to our delight it was in great shape—no doubt a function of the vineyard, the winemaking and ideal cellar conditions. It was a “big boy,” as owner Larry Turley likes to call his Zins, tipping the scale at 15.3 percent alcohol.
It offered aromas of mature berry, spice, pepper and sage, and hints of raisin and Port. That’s one unique thing about Zin. It can display raisiny notes, since many of the grapes that go into wines this ripe do in fact have some berries that are raisiny. Yet it worked in this wine, adding depth and dimension and offering enough subtle changes to make us look forward to uncorking one of its brethren. Sooner, rather than later.