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Snooth User: toomanycats

Determining how long to cellar

Posted by toomanycats, Jan 21, 2011.

New here.  I have "inherited" some red wines which vary in vintage from 1981 onward.  How do I find out information regarding when these wines are best consumed?  I don't want to miss the best times to enjoy these wines but feel a bit lost and overwhelmed trying to find information. Thanks, and really appreciate any advice.  This might not be where I should be posting this question.

Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 21, 2011.

You can get good advice here, I'm sure. Why don't you list up the pertinent info from the labels of the wines you've inherited, and post here. We'll then suggest whether to drink or hold longer.

Can you tell us about the storage conditions in the past, and what you envision for the future?

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 21, 2011.

Oh yes, and welcome to Snooth! ;-)

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Reply by toomanycats, Jan 21, 2011.

Thanks for your help!  The wines have been stored in wine racks a cement sided room in the basement of my house.  The temperature in the room stays quite stable from season to season, about 60 - 65 degrees. I was told I was supposed to rotate them slightly every once in a while - ? They have always been stored like this and only made one careful move from Vancouver to Vancouver Island.

I have about two dozen bottles that I have questions about the cellaring.  How about if I start with a few that I pulled out this afternoon when I tried to find information?

Fontanafredda Barolo 1981

Beringer Napa Valley Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1991

Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knight's Valley 1992

Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Domaine Richaud Cuvess l'Ebrescade 1993

Murrieta's Well Livermore Valley Vendimia 1995

Chateau Les Bertrands Premieres Cotes du Blaye 1995

Chateau de Chamirey Mercurey Jouennes d'Herville 1997

Domaine Calot Tete de Cuvee Morgon 1997

 

Thanks again. 

Linda

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 23, 2011.

Another wine site, CellarTracker, publishes information on the drinking window for wines.  I don't know each of these wines, but I would say the Barolo is very long lived and might be near its peak.  Greg DP, the editor, is a big expert on these, and he's drinking things that age right now. Many Barolos aren't ready to drink much  sooner than this.  Search the NYT archive for a story that Eric Asimov did on Barolo last year; he drank some pretty old bottles.

I have had a lot of aged Cabs similar to the Beringers. My take is that the Beringers are on the decline.  Drink them now, don't store any longer.

Morgons are alleged to have more age-ability than other Beaujolais, but that's pretty old for Beaujolais.  I haven't had a Morgon anywhere near that old, but my experience, albeit limited, says that you should drink it, too.

These are from the hip observations, and I have no basis for comment on any other wines.

How did you come to have these wines, if I may ask?

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Reply by toomanycats, Jan 24, 2011.

Foxall, thanks so much for the information.  I will get on that consumption right away! :)

The wines were bought by my husband over the years.  I cooked and he got the wine.  We live close enough to the Okanagan (in B.C.) and have become very familiar with wines from that region. And there are some pretty amazing wines from there.  Buying direct from the winery, as I'm sure you know, allows you to gather great information in terms of the length of cellaring and so I am better informed about those wines that I have. 

But the bottles I have referred to he was keeping to their peak - only he had the information about when that was in his head, became ill and it just wasn't a priority for me to get that information.  Now a few years later I decided maybe I should become a little knowledgeable and enjoy what he had put away.  I didn't want to open something for friends and find that it had gone skunky like some Pinot Gris that I didn't drink soon enough.

Anyway, far more info than you may have wanted.  Really glad that I happened upon Snooth.  It looks like a great place to learn.

Thanks again.  If you are ever planning a trip to the Okanagan I can recommend some great wineries to visit.

Linda

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jan 24, 2011.

Linda

Toomanycats? Interesting nom de plume?

Wellcome to Snooth - Sorry I can't help with your list, but if you need any advice on Australian WIne give me a yell

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Reply by toomanycats, Jan 24, 2011.

Thanks for your relpy Stephen.  The nom de plume just makes me smile.  I used to do some kitten fostering for a cat rescue and every once in a while my husband used to get that look and say, Linda, we have too many cats.

I do have two older Australian wines: Leasingham Cabernet Malbec 1994 and Carmenet Cabernet 1995. This last one says that it is a Cab on the front of the bottle but on the back it says it is a Cab/Cab Franc blend. I'm assuming I need to get enjoying these. Just bought a 2007 d'Arenberg Laughing Magpie and it was quite lovely.

Thanks also for your offer to help with Australian wines and if I can be a help with our BC wines I am happy to do so.  Although having just said that, our wines may not be well known enough to be requested too far afield.

L.

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Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Jan 24, 2011.

From one crazy cat lady to another: there's no such thing as too many cats!  ;)

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Reply by toomanycats, Jan 24, 2011.

@ GDD  LOL!  My dogs would vote on the side of too many.  Some days I could knit a new critter with the fur they all leave about, but they make me laugh every day.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jan 24, 2011.

L

I would drink the Leasingham now, 94 was an OK vintage and that wine ages well for a cheaper wine but I suspect it is at the end of its journey, but still should be interesting

I don't know Carmenet - Google refersd to it as a Sonoma Winery?

It also looks like it is owned by Berringer Blass [Fosters]

D'Arenburg generally make great wine and I quite enjoy Laughing Magpie, glad you enjoyed

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 24, 2011.

Carmenet is a Sonoma winery, I think they may have run into difficulties recently but were owned by someone bigger.  Not worth aging if that's what it is.  Drink it now, and at your own risk.

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Reply by toomanycats, Jan 25, 2011.

Okay, I must not have had enough coffee when I tagged that Carmenet as Australian.  You are absolutely right, it is from Sonoma. And your final comment made me laugh out loud, go down and get the bottle and open it.  Quite awful.  Vile in fact.

Thanks for your help.

L.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 25, 2011.

Carmanet used to be a very good Bordeaux blend, pretty much what you described in the way of composition. Definitely one of the best Sonoma cabs of their day. Had a lot of their 'dynamite' labels back in the '80s because I was there one of the days they were blasting their caves out of the hillside.

They were founded by Chalone back then. Chalone was probably the best Chardonnay and certainly the best Pinot Noir in California at the time, but there was a quota for their distribution, whether you were a private individual or liquor distributor or restaurant. Very, very limited quantities. Accordingly they weren't able to meet even a fraction of their demand from the restaurant sector. Edna Valley was a JV created with Paragon down in San Louis Obispo to meet some of that level of chard demand, and Carmanet (Cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc were the mains, and gave the syllables for the name) the red.

I was an early investor in Chalone during their expansions at the beginning of the '80s so saw a lot of their strategies. They used the money from that round to buy Acacia in Carneros. So at one point they had the no. 1 and no. 2 (quite a ways below the no. 1) pinots in California. They then went after and bought a fairly serious chateau in Bordeaux, and were well on their way to creating one of the more interesting boutique wine groups in North America.  However then Dick Graaf, the Chalone founder, flew his plane into some power wires. And the budding Chalone empire unraveled, worse yet their flagship wines went through a couple different winemakers and headed south. Finally they were bought out by Diageo, and they are only an exceedingly pale shadow of their former glory.

I haven't kept track of them much since my last visit to the Monterey hilltop near the Pinnacles National Monument where the used to make such exquisite wine, back early last decade. Since I hadn't been there for a few years at that point I was shocked at the level the wine had dropped to. Easy to drink fruit forward wines that were ready for guzzling as soon as they hit the marketplace. Not at all what the pinot noir reserves from the '70s and '80s were about. They'd even stopped making the reserves entirely. Serious wines of serious character way back then, and the last vertical I did of '80 thru '84 a little more than a year ago were still young.

So I don't really know when they spun their Carmanet property off to whomever. Obviously to no one who cares about making superior wines like Graaf did (if reccs are to drink immediately), who at the time was ranked with Robert Mondavi and a very few others as the cutting edge of California wine development.

Bummer about how California operations can rise to the highest levels then fall so quickly in this manner. Provides perspective for appreciating the French and other European operations that can maintain superior levels for multiple generations and even centuries....

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Reply by toomanycats, Jan 25, 2011.

Thanks so much dmcker for the history of that wine.  I found it really interesting and it helped to possibly explain why we had a bottle as Bob may have also been familiar with the origins of Chalone.  Sadly, it was not a happy bottle of wine that I opened last night.  And sad to hear of  the demise of what Dick Graaf had strived for in his lifetime.

Lots to learn and you have all been so kind and helpful.

L.

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Reply by gregt, Jan 25, 2011.

D - that's a great bit of backstory. 

Thanks

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 28, 2011.

dmcker, that was great.  I think there are lots of reasons that the French (or some of them) held on generation after generation.  One would be that the world was just harder to get around in, outsiders couldn't buy your property... and they had deep pockets for the time.  After phylloxera, many decamped to Spain and elsewhere, so that kept the family squabbles about dividing the estates a little under control.  Also, the French have all those restrictive laws, but also subsidies, which were discussed and in some cases trashed in another thread.

I didn't drink any early Chalone that I am aware of, so I can't say much about Dick Graaf's wines, but I had some idea of his importance in the industry.  (I had a discounted estate Syrah the other day that was nice, but you might have found it too "fruit forward.") Thanks to  your post, I know more now.  But I do know that he was one of the first California wine makers to sell stock (and his shareholder meetings were better attended than those of banks, you can be sure, since he poured the product).  I think his amibitions--using the money to buy other properties--must eventually have forced the loss of strict control and brought on the need to merge with a bigger partner.  This story happens time and time again in business, but it's been the pattern in wine and spirits since the 80s, when Graaf seems to have launched it. You either have less wine than people want, like they had with the Chalone label, or you can't get it on the shelves because your distribution is weak.  So what do you do?  Combine with someone who has bigger distribution, often a spirits company (Heinlein, anyone?) or even a beer company.  Or you purchase lesser labels to fill your overheated distribution channel, and pretty soon it's about creating enough product and not about making wine.  You are now running a commodity/beverage/grocery company, not a winery.  The Chalone story never answers the question of what would have come next, because of Graaf's demise.  But I think the trajectory starts when he sells shares, and uses the proceeds to expand. 

Luckily, some starry eyed person will start the process all over again, because wine does that to people, and for a dozen or twenty years, they will make great wine, work hard at it, and accept that they aren't making a ton of money.  After all, if you want to be a millionaire in the wine business, better start with two million. Lots of other starry eyed people will lack the combination of luck, skill, deep pockets and luck (yeah, I said luck twice) and they will go bust.  And one or two will do like Dick Graaf--make incredible wine on a piece of land that limits their production, buy other labels, become a big player in the game, maybe make it and maybe not.  Maybe think that they can combine with someone else but still have control.  Kent Rosenblum is one (if you like his wines), Robert Foley, who made his fortune in insurance is another.  Foley has bought a number of properties that are distressed, so we'll see what happens there.  He got some top producers with a lot of unsold inventory.  He has deep pockets and hasn't had to combine with anyone that I know of.  (He also treated a restaurant in Sonoma County like crap when he became the landlord, so he's definitely not a softie in business.) If he can weather the storm, maybe he'll be huge and maintain the quality.  I am a little skeptical. 

Carmenet was probably better before Cali cab became a commodity.  I had some that was perfectly acceptable even a few years ago, but I made the comment because it was no way age-worthy.  Seems I got that right.  Not a tough call, since it was kind of a discount brand when  I had it last.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 28, 2011.

Also want to point out that Chalone inspired this kind of loyalty more than many others, another thing that I was aware of long before I could afford or find their wines.  They were outside the Napa structure, and the stock thing really was the first of its kind.  Here's a link to a company history I just found (I was looking up the stock listings to make sure I was correct about them being the first):

http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/The-Chalone-Wine-Group-Ltd-Company-History.html

If you want to read it, it confirms and fleshes out, albeit without the personal warmth, the things said in d's excellent post. Thanks again, d, for reminding/informing us all of this important piece of wine history. Makes me think of an old song:

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; they're all that's left you.

Dick Graaf deserves to be remembered--never mind that that bottle was past its prime.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 29, 2011.

Foxall, your pointer towards accumulating inertia created by a certain style and form of business expansion is well placed. That history you link to doesn't mention Graff's brother, who also was involved, nor does it deal with the Diageo phase, which hopefully won't be terminal, at least for the fine wines those properties are capable of producing, especially the first one on top of that hill in Monterey. Something different will have to be done than is being done now, though.

I met Woodward when the Chalone group offices were still in San Fran, back around the turn from the '80s to the '90s. My firm in Tokyo had settled in after establishment a couple of years before, and getting tired of continuing prodding by a few people in the industry there I decided to try and see if I could bring them to Japan. As it turns out, they'd just signed papers with another firm the week before. So instead I turned to the Internet. ;-)

Woodward was the driving force behind many of the business innovations, but Graff was the wine visionary and ultimate enthusiast in the business. When he went, the beancounting side gained the upper hand, and the rest is the history I recounted....


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