Wine—What’s Old Is Rarely What’s New

old-winbottle“What’s New?”

It’s the query that occupies the minds of most anyone in the wine industry who ponder what kind of new fad or new embrace is coming to wine drinkers near them.

“Grenache…the wine we’ll be drinking!”  “Natural wine is the new thing being driven by a new generation of drinkers.”  “Cabernet is dead, long live red blends!”.

Some of the predictions (and hopes) come true. Others remain mere hopes or failed predictions. So it will always be.

But last night, as I and a crew of industry folks drank our way through a series of California wines 10 years and older, I wondered how it could be that well-aged wine has never captured the attention of those who want to grasp for the new thing?

The 1995 Howell Mountain Cabernet from Howell Mountain Vineyard, for example, was sublime and tasted nothing like what one would be accustomed to drinking the three and four-year old Cabs and Pinots and blends we are all used to evaluating and tasting and drinking more commonly. Why has well-aged California Pinot and Cabernet and Zinfandel not been put forward as the next new thing?

Certainly, these wines are more difficult to come by. But lack of access to certain wines has never dimmed their status as coveted. Perhaps it’s a matter of thinking forward toward “what’s new” precludes the idea of “whats old is new again” thinking. But then I read about the excitement surrounding more austere or more “balanced” wines and I note that such wines were once the norm. Maybe it’s because so very few taste makers and trend setters actually have much experience with these wines. I suspect it’s a combination of this latter reality along with the style of older wines being so foreign to them that they don’t know how to wrap their brains around them, let alone tout their desirability, or at least their potential trendiness.

Give me leather, smoke, caramel and muted fruit over bright acid-driven wines on any occasion. Give me the complexity and balance and layered nuance of well aged California Cabernet over the juicy, blackberry and blueberry and cassis bombs of young California wine always. I’ll take it.

They say that Napa Cabs won’t age; that they are too flabby or don’t possess the structure or are overly high in pH. As I taste more and more Cabs from the early 2000s and the Pinots from the same era, I’m not finding this to be the case.

In any case, I would find it absolutely delightful if one day well aged wine became the flavor of the month, if only because it would open horizons for wine drinkers to something truly new and different.

11 Responses

  1. Kat Collins - March 1, 2016

    I find I prefer the older, more mature wines over the young, juice bombs except when the wine is supposed to young and fresh like a Sav Blanc. I think sometimes we focus on the new because it’s too difficult to obtain the older wines, especially if you have a “kool-aid budget.” I don’t know of any older wine you can pick up in the $9.99 bargain bin as you can the juicy, young ones. Maybe if they were more accessible they would get noticed more? I’m not sure if that’s even possible.

    I also think it’s a trend to focus on the newer wines because it’s thought that’s what appeals to new wine drinkers. Wine media pushes the new stuff to try and be current and trendy and reach a wider audience.

  2. Tom Wark - March 1, 2016


    Thanks for your comment. Just for your info, here’s a link to wines up for auction at Winebid that Cost $25 or less and are from CA from the 1990 to 1999 vintages:

    • Kat Collins - March 1, 2016

      Now I’m in trouble….

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  4. Bill McIver - March 1, 2016

    the younger the better!

  5. George - March 2, 2016

    Went through a bunch of “birth year” wines for my sons (1991 and 1994) over the Holidays and was stunned at most of them…. Far Niente Cabernet, Dominus, Newlan Napa Valley Pinot Noir (!!!!), Lynch Bages……. Wow. I’ve got to dig into my cellar more often!

  6. Bob Henry - March 3, 2016

    I organize wine cellars in Los Angeles.

    I have the distinct pleasure of tasting old wines — lots and lots of old wines — in the company of my clients. (Or gifted to me at the end of work sessions, and drunk at home.)

    Some have improved through the tincture of time. But not many.

    But the bigger concern is placing vaunted wines on proverbial pedestals, only to be drunk on “special occasions” (such as George’s birth year wines gifted to his sons).

    There are too few truly “special occasions” in life.

    That runs the risk of drinking them too late (outside of their “drinking window”) — or not at all.

    Wine collectors need to embrace the late Australian wine writer/winery owner Len Evans’ “Theory of Capacity.”

    “Drink ’em up!” as Len would say.

  7. Why We Don’t Drink More Aged Wine | Edible Arts - March 3, 2016

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  8. Donn Rutkoff - March 3, 2016

    Most U.S. consumers don’t know anything about the chemical composition of wine, thus don’t know about aging, and especially how to pick which to age.
    Also in Europe, there are many family cellars, virtually none here. They have ongoing experience in aged wines, we have few generational histories.

  9. Boatdrinker - March 4, 2016

    From my own experience…
    Drinking a well aged wine was an “AHA!!” moment – OK, I get it now! Not just the flavors, but the texture, how they just drape around the tongue like a silk robe. Naked and ready to go. So good. I, like the author, would love to drink more of these wines.

    Problem is, it takes work. And discipline. And some cash. And patience. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it is going to take a little work. Most all of us are fairly busy, and even passionate wine drinkers get distracted from their wine drinking/collecting. And let’s face it, only passionate drinkers are going to pursue this type of endeavor. It is pretty easy for anyone to be on the hunt for some Roulot or Jamet or after they read an article or had a big dinner – that will probably fade fairly quickly, or end in the purchase of an expensive half case of wine. Building a stash of well aged vino will take endurance.

    I’m blathering, but there are many practical/pragmatic speed bumps, which are a large factor.

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