Wine Spectator's senior editors blind tasted a series of old California reds this week, and the tasting, about which James Suckling has also written, demonstrated how well most of these wines aged.
Our editors agreed on a few stars. The 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, Mayacamas 1974 and 1978, and for me the 1966 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve and 1968 Souverain, were all still drinking well. But when it came to other wines, and when it came to scores, we had about as much consensus as we did predicting the Sunday’s Super Bowl winner, which by the way will be the Giants, 27-24, in a huge upset.
With wines, one reason people diverge in their opinions is that we have different perspectives. I’ve tasted most of these many times and have many different points of reference. For some of our editors, with a wine such as the ’68 Souverain, it’s perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.
This cache of wines offered plenty of insights. A few of the wines, such as the Ridge Fiddletown from Amador County, at 14.5 percent alcohol, reminded us that higher alcohol levels are nothing new. The Jordan 1978, the winery’s first estate-grown Alexander Valley Cabernet, showed that elegantly balanced wines age well.
A few of the oldies were goners, victims of age, storage, or mushy or crumbly corks, including the otherwise legendary 1974 Hanzell Pinot Noir, the Louis M. Martini California Mountain Cabernet (from its Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma Valley) and the 1966 Inglenook F-29 from Napa Valley. (The latter two wines never saw the inside of a small oak barrel.)
But other bottles proved that the wines were extremely well made and balanced. When a wine ages well for 30 or 40 years, that’s irrefutable proof of its balance.
One obvious thread: the role of André Tchelistcheff. Tchelistcheff joined BV in the late 1930s and shaped the thinking at most of the California producers whose wines we tried—Martini, Krug (under Robert and Peter Mondavi), Inglenook, Heitz (Joe worked with André at BV), Jordan, Souverain (under Lee Stewart) and Mayacamas, even though Bob Travers has stuck to his guns with his gutsy mountain-grown Cabernets.
For me, nostalgia for old wines has its limits. I like the taste down memory lane, and reconstructing what happened. I noted the dillish scent of American oak in the BV and guessed the winery and decade, as did Harvey Steiman. And I guessed the ’68 Souverain, while wavering as to whether it might be a Mayacamas.
But when it comes to drinking wines with tonight’s dinner, I’ll always opt for something younger.