Perhaps the questions most frequently asked of winemakers and proprietors at wine tastings are “How long will it age?” and “What’s the cellar life of this wine?”
Of course, these questions are impossible to answer accurately because of the myriad variables that influence the aging profile of a wine, not to mention the impossibility of predicting the future. Variables include acidity, tannins, oak treatment, PH, characteristics of the vintage, concentration and storage conditions (which can override all other variables).
A wine kept in a hot garage or in front of a sunny window will inevitably become swill, while wine kept in a temperature-controlled cellar, or even a cool, dark basement, may age gracefully and become even more nuanced and delightful for years before it begins to decline.
White wines typically are released at their ready-to-drink peak and are unlikely to improve with age (most Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, and yes, White Zinfandel, for example). Other grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah, may be ready to go upon release, or could benefit from aging, depending upon the variables just mentioned and winemaker choices when making the wine.
So the first day of 2011 seemed like a good day to check aging characteristics of a widely available, competitively priced and predictably good quality wine, with decent cellaring potential.
Our tasting group sampled Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon and the more complex Reserve version, a proprietary blend Meritage wine composed of the five allowed red grape varieties of Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec.
The Mount Veeder appellation of Napa Valley (“valley” being a bit of a misnomer for these mountain vineyards) is characterized by long growing seasons, cool nights facilitating development of fine acidity, extended sunshine above the fog line, steep and well drained slopes and small, handharvested berries, yielding rich, concentrated fruit with good tannic structure.
Mount Veeder Winery 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon includes in the blend small amounts of Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petite Verdot: A wine can be labeled as a pure varietal grape, e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, but still contain up to 25 percent of other grape varieties. The 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon was purchased upon release and cellared at no more than 58 degrees.
The initial pour showed that the wine was losing color intensity and showing some browning character, typical of an aging Cab. Also typical of a maturing Cabernet were the nuances in the nose of cedar and tobacco, which carried over onto the palate and the finish, along with hints of green pepper.
It had a bit of astringent character initially, which softened with aeration when re-tasted several hours later. This wine doesn’t have the viscosity of a younger wine, but has a thinner character with flavors that seem to soak into the tongue. Fans of mature Bordeaux would like this, but it is past peak and, for the most part, the American palate prefers fresher wine.
Next came the 1999 Mount Veeder Reserve, which was remarkably fresher than the 1996 regular cuvee, yet both were stored side by side. Dark ruby red, the vibrancy of this wine is a testament to the mountain fruit. Great balance and great underlying acidity complement the vanilla nuances of French oak aging.
This juice shows dark cherry fruit but is starting to pick up cedar and tobacco nuances, along with overtones of saddle leather and a bit of underbrush. I would not have pegged this as an 11-year-old wine. And since people tend to vote preferences with their repeat pours, at the end of the day, this was the first bottle emptied. ‘Nuff said.
Last in line was 2007 Mount Veeder Cabernet from the cellar of Lansing attorney David Marvin. This was an entirely different wine, as one would expect being 8 years younger than the Reserve. Dark purple-garnet colored, it was rich and concentrated with a very “fruit forward” bouquet.
The sweet tannins necessary for aging are present, but all in balance. An unbalanced wine will not get in balance just because it ages, yet tannic structure complemented by acidity and rich fruit will soften and harmonize over time.
Far fresher than the older wines, this one might make you forget to sip for a moment while you stick your nose in the glass and just breath in the effusive dark cherry, chocolate, and vanilla overtones. There is only the slightest tobacco and cedar character at this point in its evolution. The tannins do create a bit of dryness on the finish, but that foretells good things to come if the wine is laid down for midterm cellaring.
Mount Veeder Winery wines are always competitively priced and should be easily accessible at dedicated local wine shops such as Goodrich’s Shop-Rite, Dusty’s Cellar, Tom’s Party Store and Wine Shop, and Big Ten Party Store locations. Whether you buy Mount Veeder Cab or another brand after consulting with a knowledgeable merchant, consider buying several bottles. Then lay some down in a cool dark place, and experiment with what suits your palate.
In Vino Veritas