April 05, 2011

Old school cabernet from 1985

Pictured to the left you see two old school wines. Both from 1985, tasted earlier this year at Storyteller Wine Company in Portland.

One is visible in the glass, the 1985 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. The other is the 1985 Ducru-Beaucaillou, a classified growth Bordeaux from the Medoc commune St. Julien.

Both were made largely before the heights of modernization took hold in each region. Before picking at elevated sugar levels. Before micro-oxidation to "round out" tannins, reverse osmosis to concentrate musts and other wine growing and making techniques that create more and more sweet tasting, even if dry, wines.

And these wines reflected the glory of those days. The '80s. When we already thought the world had gone to hell compared to the "good old days." Yes, I'm aware that it's easy to look to the past for comfort.

Yet, these wines both showed qualities that simply aren't part of the current wine landscape. Ruby colors, translucent even, with delicate fragrance and medium bodies, with none of the purple, extracted sheen of more contemporary cabernet-based wines.

The '85 Stags Leap was beautifully aromatic, bottle sweet with red fruit and green tobacco aromas, soft, mature, silky balck currant tea and perserved fruit flavors. Perhaps it's a little old at 26 years. Let's not forget this was the basic bottling for this legendary Napa producer. Still, great producer, great vintage, lovely old wine that I would happily enjoy before, during or after a meal.

To compare, the '85 Ducru was all Bordeaux. Where the Stags Leap showed plenty of sunshine in its aroma and flavor, the Ducru was powerfully fragrant with iodine, gravel, meat and ash aromas, mixing with herbaceous red fruits. Younger smelling and tasting, with red fruit and gravel flavors, incredible tannic texture and some bottle sweetness, this was all Bordeaux, less about fruit and more about gravel and earth, still young so that another decade would probably allow for further softening, the flavors maybe not so intense as the Napa wine but the complexity and the finesse greater.

What struck me about these wines is that, were they young, many winemakers today might consider them unripe. Lean. Needing too much time to show their best. I understand the market pressures. How do you convince as consumer, much less a shop buyer, that the wine will be incredible in 20 to 25 years? So we have more and more wines built for immediate consumption, which will age no doubt, but don't seem to be built for the ethereal pleasure of such old school wines as these.

These wines started out as red, not purple, and purple doesn't magically become red with two decades in the bottle. So here's unique tasting experience, and a pleasurable one at that. See how wine was made in the old days of the '80s. Marvel at how such techniques are at our disposal today, if we're interested. If you'll buy.


Portland Charcuterie Project said...

I like to age my Vincent wines for at least 2 to 3 weeks to honor the effort put into making such a fine wine, by such a fine winemaker.

Sebastien Rake said...

I was at that tasting too. It was a rare opportunity (for mr anyway) to taste some outstanding aged wines. Fascinating to see the very distinct differences between the two. It got me thinking about actually putting bottles aside for decades from now.

Vincent Fritzsche said...


Thanks for finding this. I'll have to introduce myself if I see you there again. Yeah, wines like these show why we cellar wine. I found it particularly interesting how young the Ducru still tasted. Good Bordeaux can age effortlessly.