Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I typically enjoy California Cabernets, but I recently decanted some highly rated Bordeauxs from great vintages (2009 and 2005), for about 90 minutes. I was unimpressed. They had little flavor compared to the Cabs I usually drink. The tannins were supersmooth, but the flavor was a bit tart, and just not as fantastic as I had hoped.
Do these wines need more age? Should I have decanted them differently?
You mention that you usually enjoy California Cabernets, so it's entirely possible that these wines were showing as intended and your tastes just align more with the California style. Broadly speaking, California Cabernets are riper and more fruit-forward, while red Bordeauxs show more notes of earth, tar, tobacco and spice. Your experience may have been more about your expectations than the wines themselves.
Same thing with older wines: Do you drink a lot of them? These wines may have been accurately showing their age but weren’t what you were expecting. Once a wine hits the 10-year mark, primary fruit flavors start receding to the background. I don't decant older wines for very long before I serve them. (For more on decanting, check out Wine Spectator's handy Decanting 101.) Sure, there are plenty of powerful reds that will show well or even improve for an hour or more of decanting at that age (Barolos come to mind), but I find that older wines tend to react rapidly with exposure to oxygen, and can quickly lose what remaining fruit aromas and flavors they have left.