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james laube's wine flights

With Age Comes Beauty

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 14, 2006 11:46am ET

Winemakers periodically send me older wines to show me how their wines are aging (which is usually a good thing) or, more diplomatically, to demonstrate what I missed the first time around.

And about one-third of the 5,000 or so wines that I taste each year are older wines, as opposed to new releases.

The other night I uncorked a 1999 Siduri Pinot from Pisoni Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands, sent to me by its owner, Adam Lee.

I rated it 90 on release and described it as being rich and expressive, with lots of black cherry and blackberry fruit, hints of spice and cedar. And I suggested short-term cellaring, with a drinking window from 2002 to 2006.

While this seems like a terribly narrow window, the reason I’m writing about this topic is twofold:

The 1999 has evolved into a beautiful wine. It’s still rich, very youthful and vibrant, with lots of complexity and concentration built around a core of earthy cherry and rhubarb flavors. I’m not making any grandiose predictions about how this, or other California Pinots will age, but this one looks like a solid bet for another five years or more.

And a wine that can reward in its youth and improve with age is exactly the kind of wine to have in your cellar.

Tom Miller
Vestavia Hills, AL —  November 14, 2006 5:40pm ET
I wish WS writers would post their comments about re-tasting wines (with age on them) more often. Even better, they could periodically do a write-up in the Spectator showing their original reviews of wines (by year and varietal perhaps) side by side with a review done 5 to 10 to 15 years down the road. This would be different than the retrospective tastings done from time to time (usually with Bordeaux or CA cabs) and I think it would show how many wines, particularly Pinot noirs, have longer drinkability/aging windows than they are typically given credit for. Take Adam's wines for instance. The first (and only) time I tasted his 1995 Siduri Hirsch, I was stunned by what could be done with grapes from the Sonoma Coast. I would love to see a re-tasting review of this wine today (Mr. Laube called it "ready to drink" in May, 1997) but not much was made. In the same vein, the 1999 Pisoni drank very nicely within a year of its release and, as Mr. Laube correctly states, it could go another five years. At that point, the secondary and tertiary layers of flavor and complexity will have kicked in and the wine will REALLY rock. I'm drinking Au Bon Climat, Calera, Saintsbury, and other CA Pinots from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s that are absolutely terrific and nowhere near over-the-hill. Mr. Steiman could do the same thing with Oregon Pinots (and Adam makes those as well). Although variables such as vintage year, terroir and cellar conditions have a big impact on how any wine can age, in my opinion, Mr. Steiman has often underestimated the ageability/drinkability windows for these wines as well. Pinots from Bethel Heights, Panther Creek, Ken Wright Cellars, Beaux Freres, Ponzi, St. Innocent, Adelsheim, Eyrie, Evesham Wood and many others from the early to mid-1990s are still drinking wonderfully. It's just a thought, but I'd bet your readers would appreciate the insights shown by the comparisons.
Ben Brady
Ames, —  November 14, 2006 5:55pm ET
James-

I have had some good experiences with some of my better California Cabernets living beyond their Spectator "drink window," and I have come to take yours as more conservative estimates of wines' longevity. I certainly wouldn't do it any other way, as it would probably put you in a tough spot if a wine was vinegar while still in its "window," but I do think that most wines are quite drinkable beyond your recommendation. Keep up the good work, though, I have come to value your recommendations very highly.
Joseph Karpowicz
Stony Brook, NY —  November 14, 2006 6:49pm ET
Mr. Laube, Good Evening. I was reading one of your articles recently in WS and you were talking about wine that had been "cooked" this summer during the heat. Well, during that time of extreme heat, I received a club shipment from Bennett Lane, a 1.5 magmum of Cab. When I opened the container there was wine dripping in the package and when I called BL they asked me how far down the wine was from the top of the label. when i told them it was only a fraction of an inch, they said the wine should be fine. Should I open it to see if it is "cooked"? or do you think the wine might be fine.Thank you, Joe Karpowicz
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 14, 2006 7:19pm ET
Absolutely, open it or ask for a replacement bottle.
Alvaro Esquivel
Miami, Fla —  November 14, 2006 7:56pm ET
Hi James, very interesting blog. By the way I just bought from Uncle Sid (I¿m very familiar with him thanks to Bryan Loring) a bottle of Siduri Pisoni Vineyard 2005. Would you recommend me to open it right away ( maybe I cannot resist) or to save it some more time. Please help!
Peter Czyryca
November 14, 2006 8:26pm ET
Joe, you didnt ask me - but I'd return it. You paid for an intact bottle, not a damaged bottle. Ask them to replace it.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  November 15, 2006 11:05am ET
Tom,I agree with you about the Saintsbury Pinots from the mid-1980's and early 90's. They're aging so gracefully and beautifully. They are really showing, in retrospect, how well made they were in the first place.....such balanace and elegance. They may not have been over-the-top fruit bombs upon release, but those willing to wait were awarded for their patience. Because, whereas I find that many of my bigger Pinots from that era have grown tired and flabby, the Saintsbury offerings still have all the components in place, and are displaying great aromatics and complexity now. Anyway, thanks for the thougtful post.
Robert Fukushima
California —  November 15, 2006 2:38pm ET
James, I am curious about the response of opening it. In my mind, the intent upon purchase was to receive an undamaged bottle. If the cork is leaking upon receipt, doesn't that suggest that the wine might be in poor condition? Once opened, you will have no recourse to return the bottle. I accept the risks of TCA and Brett when I buy a bottle, mostly because I have no choice, but, I would not accept a leaking bottle in person, why would I accept it shipped.
Tom Miller
Vestavia Hills, AL —  November 15, 2006 3:57pm ET
Sao, Thanks for your post. Just for the heck of it, I went back to my notes and found the last one I had for the 1994 Saintsbury. I had entirely forgotten my comments on Mr. Laube's last review about it being past its peak but it fits with the tenor of my first post. It's also an example of why comparative tasting notes would be so helpful in some cases:"1994 Saintsbury Reserve Carneros Pinot noir: (13.5%) hint of lightness at the rim surrounds a medium ruby core; nose of dark cherry fruit, earth, smoke and spice and it¿s all there on the palate in spades; contrary to Mr. Laube¿s 2000 assessment that this wine was just past its peak, this wine is drinking wonderfully right now and can easily go another 1-2 years. An American Burgundy in every respect ¿ this could easily pass for a 1990 Cote de Nuits 1er/Grand Cru; damn, this is good and I¿ve got 3 bottles left¿yesssss![2/22/06]"Come to think of it, I may have a mag down in the cellar as well. Wanna share?
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  November 15, 2006 5:06pm ET
Tom, great notes. I'd love to share that one. Coming to Cali any time soon?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 15, 2006 6:41pm ET
Robert, you make a great point. I assume they already know it's leaking. But perhaps it is best to send back. Not sure I'd do business with any winery that didn't replace a defective wine.
Joseph Karpowicz
Stony Brook, NY —  November 15, 2006 7:21pm ET
I appreciate everyone's feedback. I just spoke with the winery and they were happy to replace the wine. Unfortunately, they were out of the magnums so they will be sending 2 750's. James and Pete, thanks for your input.
Trevor Witt
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada —  November 16, 2006 8:51pm ET
James...a short question. Why doesn't Wine Spectator publish the dates for the maturity (longevity) of wines. I find it very helpful on the Robert Parker web site (Am i allowed to say that name here?) And his projected dates are quite accurate according to my experience.Trevor Witt
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 16, 2006 9:02pm ET
Trevor, not entirely sure what you mean. I and my colleagues give a recommended drink window, because as I've explained, the notes are truer to the wine now and I recommend people drink their wines earlier than later. That said, if you like your wines with more maturity, then cellaring them is fine. I've found that it's mostly inexperienced wine drinkers that need the advice. If you're an old pro and know what you like, then perhaps they're less useful. That answer your query?
Trevor Witt
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada —  November 17, 2006 8:23pm ET
James...thanks for responding. I'll try to be brief & clarify; sometimes I've let a wine age too long...quite the disappointment. I now try to track my wines for drinking before that time period. I sometimes find it difficult on WS to know when a time period is too old or past. Eg. Often the comments say drink after a particular date, say 2008. My big question; How long can I cellar this particular wine, as each type/vintage is different? With WS I am sometimes not sure of timing! Great magazine and website; especially the blogs...they add a personal touch. Congrats on your WOTY. thanks for taking the time here with me. Not an "old pro" on wine yet, rather working towards that.Trev
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 17, 2006 8:43pm ET
Ok, you make a good point about drink windows that are open ended. I'm going to suggest to my colleagues that we try and frame the windows better. As for predicting how a wine might age, the best guess is to go by the producer; wineries or wines that have proven they can make ageworthy wines are the ones you should have as you best bets, irrespective of grape type, appellation or country. One way to test this is to taste some older wines, so perhaps if you tell me where you are there might be some readers willing to share wines from their cellar for your education! See my blog from yesterday and my last comment. Tom had a big donor and there are other donors out there who want to help!
Trevor Witt
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada —  December 5, 2006 11:04pm ET
James...thanks for your response. I have been travelling and just returned. I would very much appreciate if you discuss with your associates about drink windows. Given the price of wine today, this is a very important topic. Excellent coverage on the blog. I'm fine with my wines, because i have access to different sites...but it's nice to know when wines mature. Thanks.
Timothy Gravely
Toronto, Canada —  December 21, 2006 5:23pm ET
Pisoni's are magical and in my experience age far beyond the 4-6 year window that most so called "experts" tend to reccomend for Cali Pinot's. I had an equally impressive 99 Rochioli not too long ago that was superb! Unfortunately, unlike many of the Pisoni's I've enjoyed, I wasn't fortunate enough to have the experienced of tasting the 99 Rochioli earlier, so I can't comment on now versus then.

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