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A Three Dog Night in Sonoma

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jul 9, 2007 12:21pm ET

Midway through what amounted to a cellar cleansing, my friend Ms. V sighed, “God, do I have a lot of swill in here or what?”

Ms. V is a hip wine drinker, with a first-class collection and plenty of gems, stored under prefect cellar conditions in her home in Sonoma. Since she’s still a buyer with her name on several hard-to-get-on mailing lists, I’m protecting her identity for this blog and using our experience in the spirit of warning you not to ignore your cellar. She (or he) who hesitates, or forgets about bottles altogether, loses perfectly good wines.

Ms. V had asked for advice about some of the older wines in her cellar and some she had forgotten about. We poked through one bin with great vintages of Araujo, Peter Michael, Beaux Frères, Pahlmeyer, Whitehall Lane and a couple of 1989 Bordeaux, all of which should be excellent.

And then there were the surprises—wines she barely remembered buying, except their appellations suggested they were purchased on location, out of state. These are often the kinds of wines you buy on vacation, when the wine tastes great at the winery but is less inspiring back home.

Worse, bottles of 1974 Robert Mondavi and Simi Cabernet had gone unnoticed for, well, decades. And there were plenty of 15-year-old Chardonnays that appeared to be oxidized, with wine that had turned a golden color. Oh, my, Ms. V groaned as she put those bottles in the “don’t-even-give-away” pile. Grrrr.

One of her worst memories: lots of Kistler Chardonnays from the 1990s that aged poorly.

The most alarming find was her cache of 1998 Cabernets, including a case each of 1998 BV Private Reserve and Tapestry, gifts from a friend. At best these are both controversial wines from a difficult vintage. At their worst they are, for me, essentially undrinkable, due to their TCA taint.

All collectors have bottles of wine that they’ve ignored or forgotten, I assured her, and she was able to laugh at her benign neglect. She is, after all, a wine connoisseur and letting some of these wines expire is a waste of money.

As we wrapped up the cellar reorganization and purging we came across a bin of Turley Zinfandels from Dogtown Vineyard in Lodi, vintage 1997. Ms. V had about eight bottles, and I suggested she give at least a couple of them a try. So as the sun set and evening settled in, and her three big black canines raced around the backyard, she grilled chicken brats and we opened the ’97 Dogtown, making it a three-dog event.

I figured the wine might be a dead shoulder. But to our delight it was in great shape—no doubt a function of the vineyard, the winemaking and ideal cellar conditions. It was a “big boy,” as owner Larry Turley likes to call his Zins, tipping the scale at 15.3 percent alcohol.

It offered aromas of mature berry, spice, pepper and sage, and hints of raisin and Port. That’s one unique thing about Zin. It can display raisiny notes, since many of the grapes that go into wines this ripe do in fact have some berries that are raisiny. Yet it worked in this wine, adding depth and dimension and offering enough subtle changes to make us look forward to uncorking one of its brethren. Sooner, rather than later.


John Miller
Windsor, CA —  July 9, 2007 7:08pm ET
I am sure Ms. V is a lovely person, but it sticks in my craw when collectors cellar more than they can manage. That she has too much wine is evidenced by wines she barely remembers acquiring. There is not a wine in my cellar that I can't tell you where and when I got it and how much longer before it should be consumed. Allowing fine wines to pass their prime is not just a waste of money, it is disrespectful. She might consider going through her collection and donating some wines to charity now before more wines deteriorate.
Lucien Albert
Chicago, IL —  July 9, 2007 7:36pm ET
It often amazes me the excitement we feel when purchasing a special bottle or case and the equally dramatic disappointment that surfaces when we find that must have bottle lost within our own celler and well past it's prime. A sad state that we all have experienced on more than one occasion. Thankfully, Miss V was able to save a few bottles of joy.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  July 9, 2007 8:43pm ET
I guess I work too hard for my money, so every single bottle in my cellar (at home and offsite storage) is tracked by location, drink window, rating(s), and the place(s) from which it was purchased. Granted, I only have 500 bottles, but at an average price of $43/bottle I think it's important to make sure they all get the attention they deserve.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  July 9, 2007 10:12pm ET
well you also never find the "right" occasion to drink alot of wine. I'm always trying to find that right moment to pop a nice bottle, however it mostly just sits there
Jim Gallagher
Jim Gallagher —  July 9, 2007 11:05pm ET
Is this a puritan blog? Is ms v to be flogged for indulgent "wine collection"?Jim Gallagher
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  July 10, 2007 2:13am ET
If any of you are having trouble working through your wine inventory, let me know. I am sure I can help ;^)
Jeffrey Nowak
scottsdale, arizona —  July 10, 2007 2:30am ET
with the advent of wine cellar management tools like cellartracker!, losing such a large component of your collection now seems absurd, but i find it comical that any serious collector would error this badly at any juncture in their wine journey. i understand the intent of this blog, but it actually portrays your subject in a very unflattering light. ridiculous.
Gene Keenan
san francisco —  July 10, 2007 3:09am ET

I get stuck in this same line of thinking myself but i try to remember any day above ground is the right moment to pop a nice bottle.
Errol R Kovitch
Michigan —  July 10, 2007 9:24am ET
Sorry about the "lots of Kistler Chardonnays from the 1990s that aged poorly". I am still drinking through a small stash of '90 & '92 Durrell Sand Hill that continues to drink beautifully.

Not that I own any, but I would be mighty upset if the BV Private Reserve was not drinking well 9 years after the vintage, even in a weak year. Isn't this a wine that is meant for cellaring?
Hugh L Sutherland Jr-m
miramar beach, fl —  July 10, 2007 9:37am ET
I would second Jeff's statement about celltracker (celltracker.com) With this free or a small donation program, it is almost impossible to loose a bottle of wine. My problem is finding that "special time" that almost never comes.
Tom Breneman
eau claire, WI —  July 10, 2007 2:22pm ET
Heather Shott
New York, NY —  July 10, 2007 2:45pm ET
In their defense, chicken brats are actually pretty darn good ...
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  July 10, 2007 8:37pm ET
Its 5:30, I'm done work, I feel a "right moment" coming on...*starts digging for the 96 Montelena*
Brent Rupnow
Valley Village, CA —  July 11, 2007 3:30pm ET
Troy, I'm shocked that you only have 500 bottles. Everytime I go to my wine locker(obviously the same facility you use), it seems like there are boxes of wine waiting for you! I've often thought to myself that this guy must have some collection...

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