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Ch-Ch-Changes in My Cellar

California Cabernets have been pushed aside in recent years
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jan 8, 2018 4:45pm ET

The most profound change I made in my wine cellar began a few years back.

As my tastes again changed I shifted allegiances. I began concentrating more and more on Pinot Noir, a vastly improved wine from California, Oregon and New Zealand (three of my favorites), and concentrating less on Cabernet.

It had less to do with prices, although as Cabernet became more expensive, it was a consideration. And less to do with my own mortality, but that, too, was a factor: How much wine do I need to survive? And can I really afford to cellar wines longer than I might live? I'm sure some of my wines will outlive me, but not by design.

It had to do more with how I used wine and my stylistic preferences, as in wines with lunch or dinner. The foods I enjoyed the most were better served by Pinot's texture, nuance, subtlety and finesse. Those traits became more important considerations, and Pinot had more of them than Cabernet.

The taste wild card was not my enjoyment of beer, IPAs and the like, but my discovery that having spent a few weeks in Ireland, I really liked Irish whiskey and learning about different styles and brands. Red Breast and Green Spot, true holiday colors, earned spots in my kitchen cabinet.

I suppose in that regard I'm more in sync with today's typical drinker, having less brand loyalty than curiosity. But at some point those two concepts intersect. I'm amazed by how people keep up with all the new trends in drinks, but they do, and it makes for a far more interesting beverage world.

I still drink and enjoy Cabernets. For complex, full-bodied reds that age amazingly well, Cabernet is tough to beat. I am reminded of that whenever I enjoy a great bottle, and that brings a fresh dimension to drinking Pinot. But I can already see a troubling trend with my newfound friend, Pinot Noir. Prices are looking more like those of Cabernet, rising faster than I can afford, and that's a problem.

William A Matarese
Lecanto, FL —  January 8, 2018 5:50pm ET
Thank goodness for the Italians and Spaniards. They still make a wide variety of fantastic, food-friendly reds that won't even come close to breaking the bank. Southern France too, but those do tend to get a bit boring after a while.
Don R Wagner
Chicago & Tucson —  January 9, 2018 7:48am ET
Some great insights...great Pinot is also wonderful when paired with a great Char starter! One observation; as my cellar ages (like me), many, if not most, Cal Pinots have shorter drink windows than expected. I have learned, with a few exceptions (Marcassin comes to mind), they drink best between 3 & 5 years. Regarding my wild card; great Bourbon is really fun, although one should enjoy it with care. Thanks!
Joseph S Barrera
Cazadero, CA —  January 23, 2018 4:19pm ET
My path has been similar to yours. I now concentrate on just a couple of cabs (Lewis cabs (food all by themselves) and Sbragia cabs) and a full spectrum of pinots. I enjoy Kosta Browne, Dutton-Golfield, Hartford, Fort Ross and Lula.

Again, mainly for the broadest match to foods that we enjoy.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.
Leif Easterson
Ronkonkoma, NY —  June 3, 2018 7:54am ET
Given my vintage is 1961 I'm in the same case regarding mortality and the drinking window of my wines. Unless one is creating a legacy to pass on to one's heirs at some point "you can't take it with you" is an increasing consideration for most people.

Agree Cali Cabs are jetting over the affordability/lower priced alternatives airspace, and taking them out of the regular guy flights and in to the private jet set. The same is starting on the Cali Pinot's, and I've started to look elsewhere for future bookings due to these reservations.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  March 17, 2019 5:20am ET
so i am just reading this a year later, and have experienced a similar shift (my wife is not a big PN fan, except for Bevan). We also went to Ireland in late 2018 and discovered that Irish whisky was a much better QPR than most Scottish/Japanese/US versions (yeah, whiskey vs whisky, hate that superfluous crap debate). So yeah, drink the right beer or whisky or wine with the cuisine. Don't be an idiot. Kudos to you James, and thank you for all your years of service.

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