Expectations of Averageness


They can "do in" a wine or elevate it to heights we never expected. But sometimes our expectations for a wine are met so perfectly that there can be no lamenting, no elation…just acknowledgment of what we expected. Personally, I prefer to be elated or disappointed by a wine.

This was driven home this past weekend as I broke open a couple bottles of wine:

1996 Rochioli Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley)
1996 Mondavi To-Kalon I Block Fume Blanc (Napa Valley)

Ten year old Sauvignon Blancs.

My expectation for these wines was that while they would be drinkable, they would not necessary be mind blowing in any way. I expected they would have lost their fruit, but retained much of their acidity. I expected that they would throw of interesting secondary aromas and flavors that fell into the realm of coconut, old hay, caramel, and maybe a little lychee nut or unripe mango.

This is exactly what I got.

My partner that night, an unabashed advocate of fruit forward, silky powerhouse wines couldn’t figure out why he’d ever want to drink these wines after a decade in the bottle. My suggestion that they would be magnificent with a bit of Flan fell on deaf ears. However, my contention about this possible pairing pushed him (out of pride of his opinion?) to go to his cellar and pull out a recently released late harvest wine to demonstrate exactly what would go well with Flan.

The Rochioli had held up better than the Mondavi. It showed a bit more fruit, more acid and experienced less oxidation. I suspect there are ten year-old Sauvignon Blancs out there that have held up better than these two, both of which were considered at the time among the best California SBs produced. I’ll be looking for those other well-aged SBs and I’ll bring only moderate expectations to their consumption. It’s the prudent thing to do. One the one hand, It’s likely my moderate expectations that the wines will be average. But on the chance that they really soar, I’ll have the opportunity to revel in something far beyond what I expected. Which is really what I like about trying these older wines that are not expected to be great.

3 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - July 25, 2006

    One of the things you learn in this business is to give wine a chance, particularly in the kind of circumstance you write about here. So those wines weren’t terrific; at least they were palatable (to some degree) and provided a valuable learning experience. Sometimes it works out exactly as you said, sometimes better or worse. For my wife’s birthday in 1995, I bought a bottle of Chateau Magdelaine 1966 and took it to a fine restaurant. When the waiter poured it, I thought, “Uh-oh.” It smelled musty and woody, definitely over-the-hill. But after a few minutes the wine sort of shook itself by the shoulders, stepped up to the plate and became glorious, the apotheosis of great, ripe, mature St. Emilion and stayed that way for about ten minutes. Then it collapsed. I wouldn’t trade those ten minutes for anything.

  2. tom - July 25, 2006

    I enjoyed the somewhat heretical idea of even drinking a ten year old California SB. And it wasn’t bad wine at all. It was simply what I expected it to be: interesting, over the hill and different. But it was hardly something I’d throw out (although it was the Rochioli that got drunk while the Mondavi got mainly left where it was.
    But you are right…it’s the experiences, short as they may be at times, that make it all great fun.

  3. Erwin Dink - July 26, 2006

    I have to wonder… if it was heretical to drink a 10 year old SB then why did you save the bottles so long? Was it an oversight or an experiment? Do you have such an extensive cellar that you didn’t know they were there or did you set them aside specifically for this purpose?

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