Middle Aged Wine: The Good, Bad and Worst News

vintageHere’s the Bad News: The vast majority of wine critics, wine reviewers and wine publications won’t review wines that are more than 3 or 4 years past their vintage dates.

Here’s the Good News: If wine critics, wine reviewers and wine publications did review wines that are 6-10 years past their vintage dates many consumers would love that.

Here’s the Worst News: If consumers did have access to reviews of wines 6-10 years past their vintage date, they probably couldn’t find them to buy anyway.

What a service it would be, educationally and practically, if committed wine lovers could find reviews of wines that are not brand new. How many of us right now have wines in their cellar that are 6, 8, 10 years old, that we just haven’t gotten to drinking. It would be a real service to have a sense of where they were in their evolution. Furthermore, for those of us that read reviews simply to educate ourselves and not merely in preparation to spend money, we could round out our academic education through exposure to the characteristics normally found in semi-well aged wine.

The fact that these kinds of wine reviews are almost never published tells us that those who review wines are working primarily on behalf of the producers, rather than the drinkers—whether they plan this or not. Current and now traditional marketing cycles in the wine industry force producers to begin to sell vintages no more than six months or a year after bottling. And this is, then, when bottles go out to the critics and publications.

This fact produces a number of outcomes:

1. Wines are often produced to shine, as it were, when young.

2. Reviews of wines that are so young often tell only a one-sided story

3. The notation on many reviews noting that the wine will “drink well between Year and Year” are half guesses, not solid guidelines.

4. Consumers have it instilled in their mind that wine is best drunk young.

This is mainly moot though, isn’t it. As I mentioned, it’s extraordinarily difficult to walk into a wine shop right now and pick up a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir or Bordeaux or Argentine Malbec or Barolo. In fact, if a producer did want to hold back their vintages many more years than normal before releasing them, the look on shop owners face would tell this store: “What the heck is wrong with this wine that they could not sell it and they still have it in inventory…I’m not going to be the dope to buy this dreck.”

It’s a shame. So many California Cabernets and Pinots and Zins, for example, are absolutely delicious at 10 years of age and in fact deliver a different kind of experience. That experience is quite often much more appropriate with food too.

But it’s up to us, the consumer. We are the ones that will need to be responsible for examining the middle-aged wines, the wines that are 6, 8 or 10 years out of vintage. We can neither rely on retailers carrying any real supply of aged wines and in turn, no wine publications or reviewers will attempt to cover the subject of aged wines on anything like a regular basis.

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10 Responses

  1. Jkilcullen - March 4, 2014

    So when’s your cellar tasting? I’ll be right over to assist in getting this valuable information out
    to consumers. 😉

  2. Bob Henry - March 4, 2014


    It isn’t just the wine media who are falling short on this subject. (Although to their credit, Robert Parker and James Laube have consistently conducted retrospective tastings of California Cabernets at 10 and 20 years of age.)

    It is also the consumers.

    For your readers who reside outside of Los Angeles, and have not been exposed to the legacy of Corie Brown’s writings for The Times over the years, let me proffer this article on how wine enthusiasts with a hunger for history can throw their own retrospective tastings via discerning purchases from the wine auction houses.

    ~~ Bob

    From the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
    (April 23, 2008, Page F1ff):

    “It’s Vintage Napa”

    [Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2008/apr/23/food/fo-wine23%5D

    By Corie Brown
    Times Staff Writer

  3. Damien - March 5, 2014

    Tom –
    I represent Fred Scherrer in Illinois, whose current release Cab is 2007. He and I have this discussion endlessly and it has literally taken him years to have people notice his efforts, in part because requests for samples almost always are vintage specific. “For our review on Sonoma 2012, please send…” There are myriad examples of this, and certain writers have started requested “back” vintages, i.e. Fred’s current releases.

    On the commercial front, we are starting to see an advantage to this as Fred releases 3 or 4 vintages at a time with a sliding price scale. I thought this would have been an instant hit on and of premise, but it has taken time – I think off premise, middle age wines sometimes look forgotten, and I can’t tell you how many times we are asked when we are going to “close out those older Scherrers”. That is starting to change, but slowly.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with my experience with Fred.


  4. fredric koeppel - March 5, 2014

    Tom, I would love the chance to write about and review older vintages on biggerthanyourhead…but where are such wines? Producers don’t send out those wines for review. I see older years of cabernet in retail stores occasionally, but I’m a journalist, not a plutocrat; I can’t buy wines at those prices. California winemakers: consider this comment a plea.

  5. Ana Keller - March 5, 2014

    As the Petaluma Gap moves forward with our pursuit of recognition we’ve been discussing that we need to focus on showing the beautiful aging potential of our wines as part of who we are. So you can count on us to start doing our part from the producers side.

    • Jim crayne - March 6, 2014

      This interests me since the last vintage we have for sale has been deemed “to old” 2005 and has been excluded from any marketing efforts to promote the wines of the petaluma gap. These wines have aged wonderfuly and it is a shame that the older wines are not being promoted to showcase this crucial element in fine wine.

  6. Bob Henry - March 5, 2014

    To Damien in Illinois:

    Here in Los Angeles, I consult on assembling wine stores’ and restaurants’ wine lists.

    I’ve known of and admired Fred Scherrer since his days at Greenwood Ridge.

    Six months ago at a Pinot Noir festival, I met Fred and expressed my desire to carry his wines in a new client’s wine store.

    When I placed my order with his local distributor/broker, a number of wines were “sold out.”

    Ever the generous types, Judi and Fred dipped into their private stash and supplied my client with 2007 Cabernet and 2009 Pinot Noir.

    Both are “hand sells” because Fred’s brand name recognition falls below the radar.

    But when folks taste them — and compare how moderately priced they are — the pubic embraces them.

    In assembling the opening day wine list for this store, I did a deep dive into countless distributors’ and brokers’ price catalogues (researching over 7,000 wines) to ferret out older vintages still available (and languishing) in warehouses . . . all in the service of presenting “last call” buying opportunities of great vintages to the store’s patrons:

    2005 and 2009 red Bordeaux
    2005 Sauternes
    2007 and 2009 California Cabs and Merlots and Cab-blends
    2005 and 2007 and 2008 and 2009 and 2010 Washington Cabs and Merlots and Cab-blends
    2007 and 2009 California Pinots
    2010 red Rhones
    2010 white Burgundies
    2010 California Chards

    Sales reps have to sell the most recent vintage put into distribution to “make their monthly and quarterly numbers.”

    Consumers have “amnesia” about older vintages, because their consumption of wine media touts contemporary releases.

    Wine merchants need to step up and once again assume their historical role as “opinion leaders” and “taste makers” in guiding the public to ALL available wines — older and newly-released.

    ~~ Bob

    • Damien - March 5, 2014

      Bob –

      Glad to hear of the connections, and that you are doing well with Fred’s wines. Because they make so many wines, we are aware of the issue of keeping any one particular wine in stock from them, but try to cover a wide variety. In their case, it has worked out well as we are able to present “older” wines when appropriate to showcase the winery without having too many on hand. Distributors everywhere will laugh at me, but I don’t look at “Sales reps monthly and quarterly numbers.” We have total expectations for global sales of course, but I’ve always felt that if I tell my team they “have” to sell a particular wine, they are going to ask for favors and force wines on customers instead of finding the right wine for the placements based on what we have in house.

      More and more, the chance to offer something with a bit of age is working in our favor. I’m sorry you are not consulting in Chicago!


      PS – have you seen our series with Fred called “Ask a Winemaker” on Youtube? If you enjoy the family and the wines, I suspect you’d enjoy the videos as much as I’ve enjoyed filming them over the years.

  7. Samantha Mueller - March 5, 2014

    We are a mom and pop winery in Carneros Napa making wines to age. We have a library list that for some varieties go back to 1994. Fortunately for us, people that enjoy the flavors of aged california wine at reasonable prices are good at seeking us out. We even have a small wine club that is dedicated to show casing prerelease wines, current releases (2010-2006), and aged wines. We really love the flavors of aged wine–things balance out, flavors are actually distinguishable, and they really go great with food. However, I will say that much of napa and california is geared towards what was just picked/just pressed, and that has made our business style challenging–but we love it! We do wish that there was maybe more information and marketing for aged wine, but until there is, we will keep on surprising people with our wine and educating those that are interested in wine as an investment.

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