Does anyone else miss the old style of California reds? I was with some friends in Los Angeles the other day having dinner at the Bazaar (which, by the way, is one of the best food experiences in the United States at the moment à la Fat Duck or El Bulli) and they brought a couple mature bottles of California reds.
One of the wines was not really that old. It was a 1999 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains, and the other was a 1975 Freemark Abbey Pinot Noir Napa Valley. Both wines had very little to do with so many of the high-octane jam juice being made in my home state.
The Ridge was so balanced and beautiful. It reminded me of a 1995 Latour in structure and in character, with lots of currant, mint and fresh herbs on the palate. It was full-bodied, with soft, velvety tannins and a long, refreshing aftertaste. I scored it 94 points, non-blind.
The 1975 Freemark was outstanding as well. I was surprised how good it was. It showed tar and rubber at first, but then it opened to smoke and hints of ripe fruit. It was full and chewy, with fresh fruit and tannins. It was a little funky, but I really appreciated its old-style California character.
The two wines reminded me of my early days at Wine Spectator in our San Francisco office, tasting and visiting wineries from California. They also reminded me of the many Cali Cabs I used to share with my dad from his wine collection, including the classic BVs and Mayacamas Mountain Cabs from the 1960s and 1970s.
I miss the freshness and the slightly austere character of those California wines. I miss the lower alcohols. I miss the minerally undertones and the fresh herb aromas, too.
Some might say that I am being nostalgic. And I admit that I love the fruit-forward, big, juicy characters of some of the best reds from California, but I would love to see a little more austerity and reserve in some of them.