Selections for March 2017

Celebrating development


No wine topic is more fraught with supposition, misconception, and outright B.S. than that of age-ability.  The questions are legion; the answers frustratingly elusive with frequent qualifiers “sometimes” and “not always.”

Some suppose (based on experience OR the effectiveness of persuasive advertising) the older the bottle, the more improved its contents.  – But what’s your premise; your definition of “improved”?  Take Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:  In youth it’s bound to be darker in color, with more vibrantly glowing hues of violet or ruby.  Age it for ten years and the color literally drops out; one “tell” is the sediment at the bottom of your bottle and, if recklessly poured, your glass.  The boldness of purple youth has faded to a red/brown/burgundy shade.  Is this a good thing or bad?  Sometimes.  Not always.  

Youthful aromas of fresh cherries and blackcurrant also leave town before long, soon replaced by more dusty, dried cherries, a more salient sense of earthiness, olives, cedar, and herbs.  Good thing or bad?  Sometimes.  Not always.

Textures once bold with macho tannins settle to a more mellow sense of silk.  Good?  Bad?  It depends.

It depends on your appreciation of more developed “Phase II” Cabernet.  A lot of today’s Cab fans are more drawn to the forward, dark fruit of younger wine; tolerating the penalty of the tannic lashing applied to their tongues.  This is what they’re accustomed to since the market most often shows us only un-evolved current releases (it’s hard to sit on money).  Older Cabernet is not readily available without the personal investment of a patient “first in / first out” cellaring program at home.  Maybe our fathers - more apt to emulate Europe’s traditional reverence for aged Bordeaux and Barolo, had more experience with the older smells and flavors.  Have we lost that appreciation?

- And so we put this rare “older” wine before you with the submission that when very good Cabernet is properly aged it can become a very valid different kind of “good”.  This bottle is meant to be a lesson, a treat, and a time saver:  You need age this 2005 no longer.  ‘Eugenia’ from Sempre Vive is single vineyard-sourced, coming from the winery’s oldest vines in northern Napa Valley’s sub-appellation of Calistoga.  The winery offered this opportunity to TWS at a club-workable wholesale price, and we were pleased to pounce.  2005 – a vintage I’ve considered great for aging with its vibrant, higher acid “redness” – is rarely seen in the market these days.  We sell Sempre Vive’s younger “everyday” sibling for about $20.  That “lesser” wine provides the darkness of youthful fruit many casual consumers prefer.  Are YOU the more thoughtful wine lover who can appreciate the difference of age?  We hope your reply, at the very least, is “Sometimes, if not always”!  

And now for Youth . . .


Two years ago Ilaria offered us very special pricing on its 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.  As most will recall, that vintage was the most difficult for Napa Valley growers in at least a decade.  The colder, wetter year imposed its grim will on Cabernets which barked back with stiff tannins, an abundance of savory qualities such as tea and black olives, and a nearly non-existent fruit remark.  On rare occasions we careful tasters actually found something to like in a 2011, relieved to experience a less fruit-forward year for once.  Ilaria’s version, especially at their secret lower price to us, was a club-worthy success.

Our support and your acceptance of Ilaria in more “trying” wine times has been rewarded with yet another attractive wholesale price on their more widely-appreciated 2013 vintage.  Blackcurrants, violets, black raspberries, and espresso are happening happily on a lush, rich-yet-refreshing frame.  The acidity and tannins of youth will certainly support at least eight years of aging, but our older wine advocation (above)  might be carelessly disregarded in favor of celebrating youthful fruit-forwardness.

Anna Monticelli’s winemaking training encompasses both UC Davis and Bordeaux, culminating in a stint at famed Cheval Blanc in 2000.  Back home, her early winemaking work included Seavey and Bryant Family and – more recently – Piña.  Ilaria is Anna’s own project, now familiar to longtime club members via two very different vintages!       

92 Points from Robert Parker himself.