Can fine red wines from California age, most notably the Bordeaux varietals? Even those far below the cult-level wine prices? It depends, of course, on too many variables to list here. But, in general, many do improve with age. The tannins soften, the fruit comes into better harmony with the wood, and age adds other nuances to the nose, such as chocolate, cassis, leather, tobacco, licorice and mint. They are a better match with food, where a lot of the monster wines are not and never will be.
To benchmark changes and for ongoing fun with family and friends, we set aside wines each year to try at different intervals, depending upon the style and qualities of each. Our approach includes wines priced from $30 and up and from different appellations. Many were purchased from the online flash sale merchants, who have daily offerings via email. I’ve found them a great source for wines under $20 for parties, picnics and low-cost sipping wine during the week. They have occasional finds in $30 to $50 range from wineries trying to clear inventories and offering discounts from 30% to 50%. The three merchants that I use most are: Wines Till Sold Out, WineAccess and Invino.
I¹d suggest registering with all three, getting a feel for their offers and perhaps find occasional wines that strikes your fancy. You will almost always find something interesting that you would NOT have discovered at the local Costco, Vons or BevMo.
To acquire rarities, get on the mailing lists or waiting lists for those wineries you admire most. After your purchase arrives, let the wines sit six months or more, then try the first bottle and determine a future tasting plan to enjoy the wines as they evolve. But a caveat emptor: bad wines won’t improve with age, so be selective in what you want to keep around to share.
For some examples of how new world wines can age, here are notes from wines, mostly Bordeaux varietals and blends, we tasted the past year and scoring over 16 on the UC Davis scale and 90 on other scales. The notes were posted on Cellar Tracker and sometimes in social media. The notes are listed by vintage, from youngest to oldest, and alphabetically within the vintages. Perhaps you will find a familiar name here. And maybe not! The thrill of discovery. Cheers!
- Napa 2016 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($120 in 2020). Dark purple; big ripe grape nose; berries, mint, cocoa, cassis, wood; mid-big body; balanced for its age; fine Cabernet fruit, hints of oak; long semi-hot finish. Needs a little time to reach potential. 17.5 UC Davis scale, 93 other scales.
- Napa 2015 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($60 in 2019). Mid purple, pink edges, viscous; berry, mint, floral nose, hint of oak; mid-body, balanced, softening tannins; long, slightly hot fruity finish (14.6 alc.). w/flank steak. 16.5/91
- Big California red 2014 Tuck Beckstoffer Amulet. Cabernet from vineyards in St. Helena, Oakville. Dark purple; ripe grape, berry, prune, cedar (21 months in new French oak); mid-big tannins; berry, jam, fat and thick Cabernet; long hot (15.1 alc.) finish; a little one dimensional. w/beef. 16.5-17/91-92
- Napa Bordeaux blend 2014 Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve ($36 in 2018). Mid-dark garnet; Napa nose, mint, berries, cassis, light oak; mid-body; balanced; mid-tannins; semi-tight fruity finish, hint of wood. w/left over pasta. 16.5/91
- Napa 2014 Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Vineyards ($35). Dark garnet; herbaceous, wood, berry and smoke nose; ripe grapes (14.5 alc.); balanced; mid-body; soft tannins; good fruit; semi-long easy-sipping finish. w/cheese board, charcuterie. 16/90
- 2013 Carl Roy Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain Napa ($32 in 2015). Mid-dark garnet, brick edges; Napa Cabernet nose; cassis, mint, herbaceous, ripe grape; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; good Cabernet fruit; long semi-tight finish. Opening up a little more. 16.5/91
- Mount Veeder, Calif., 2013 The Hess Collection 19 Block Mountain Cuvée ($24 on sale in 2016). Fine mountain fruit. Dark purple; berry, mint, ripe grape, vanilla nose; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; long fruity finish, hints of mint, wood. w/beef. 16.5-17/91-92
- Napa, Spring Mountain Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($55 in 2020). Mid-dark garnet, brick edges; mint, cassis, herbaceous, smoke and cedar nose; mid-big body; tight tannins; long, semi-chewy hot (14.2 alc.) finish. w/beef. 16.5/91
- Napa red blend 2012 Amizetta Vineyards Complexity ($52 in 2015). 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc. Has improved with age. Dark garnet; berry, mint, cassis, cocoa and ripe grape nose; mid-big body; mid-plus tannins; semi-deep hot (15% alc.), berry and wood finish. w/tri-tip, risotto. 16/90
- Napa Valley Bordeaux blend 2012 Arietta Quartet ($55 in 2015). 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cab Franc, 18% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot. Mid-dark garnet; berry, mint, cocoa, ripe grape nose (14.9 alc.); mid-big body; tight tannins; long semi-chewy semi-hot finish. w/prime rib. 16.5/91
- Napa red blend 2012 Tuck Beckstoffer Mad Hatter, Dancing Hares Vineyard ($35 in 2016), improves with age. Mid-dark garnet; berries, mint, sweet wood, cocoa, herbaceous nose; mid-body; mid-plus depth, intensity; good Cabernet fruit; long fruity semi-hot finish. w/stew. 16.5-17/91-92
- 2012 Robert Mondavi Winery BDX (Bordeaux blend; $40 in 2017). Mid-brick, amber edges; cassis, berry, red fruit, wood and Napa Cabernet nose; mid-body; balanced; good depth of fruit; long rich semi-chewy finish. w/beef with Richelieu sauce. 17-17.5/92-93Napa 2012 Veedercrest Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder ($33 in 2018). Mid-dark garnet, amber edges, viscous; herbaceous, red fruit, cocoa, cassis nose; mid-big body; good structure; mid-plus tannins; a little hot (14.8 alc.); long chewy finish. w/flat iron steak. 16.5/91
- Napa red blend 2011 Buoncristiani OPC Proprietary Red ($35 in 2015). 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Syrah, 15% Malbec, 11% Merlot. Mid-dark garnet, edges lightening; smokey, peppery, herbaceous, berry and oak nose; mid-body; balanced; mid-plus tannins; long semi-hot (14.4 alc.) chewy finish. w/grilled food. Improved with a little time. 16.5/91
- Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, 2011 Coho Cabernet Sauvignon Summit Vine Ranch ($31 in 2015). Mid-dark garnet, brick edges, viscous; herbaceous, ripe grape, black fruit, cassis and wood nose; mid-big body; mid-plus tannins; long, hot (14.5 alc.) chewy finish. w/beef. 16.5/91
- Napa, Calif. 2011 Maroon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Spring Mountain District ($30 in 2015). Similar notes to previous. Sharp, mid-dark garnet (color starting to fade with age); herbaceous, berry, cassis, ripe grape nose; mid-body; softening tannins; long, fruity, round, hot (14.2 alc.) Cabernet finish. w/beef. 16/90
- 2011 J. Moss Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $35 in 2015. Mid-dark garnet, brick edges, mid-viscosity; berry, mint, light oak, Napa nose; mid-body; softening tannings; decent Cabernet fruit; fading; hot (14.3 alc.) finish. w/meatloaf. 16/90
- Nicely aging Napa Cabernet 2011 Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Encantado Reserve ($25 in 2017). Tartrates on cork; double-decanted. Mid-dark, brick edges; light mint, cedar and Cabernet nose; mid-body; balanced; fine Cabernet flavors; hints of wood; long semi-chewy finish (14.1 alc.). w/meatloaf. 16.5/91
- Napa California cellar treat. 2011 Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate St. Helena (gift in 2016; under $70 at auction or online today). Mid-garnet, brick edges; berry, black fruit, cassis, mint and vanilla nose (18 months in French oak); balanced; mid-big body; semi-tight; long semi-chewy fruity finish; nice depth. 17-17.5/92-93
- Yountville, Calif. Red Blend, 2010 Tamber Bey Cabernet Sauvignon Deux Chevaux Vineyard ($42 in 2013). Mid-dark garnet, brick edges; mint, cedar, cassis, cocoa, leather nose (similar to earlier notes); mid-big body; mid-plus tannins; long semi-chewy hot (14.9 alc.) finish. w/tri tip. 16.5/91
- Napa 2009 James Johnson Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Bisou ($59 in 2012). Mid-dark purple, brick edges; berries, cedar, herbaceous Cabernet nose; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; good varietal fruit; mid-plus intensity; long round, ripe, slightly hot (14.2 alc.) finish. w/short ribs. 16.5-17/91-92
- 2008 Regusci Merlot Stags Leap District ($25 in 2016). Dark garnet, brick edges; brambles, black fruit, smoky and ripe grape nose (14.2 alc.); mid-big body but balanced; softening tannins; long big fruity finish (decanted; heavy sediment). w/marinated tri-tip on the BBQ. 17/92
- Napa Valley 2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon (gift in 2010). Mid-dark garnet, brick edges; herbaceous berry, mint, cassis Napa nose; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; long Cabernet finish, hint of wood; some sediment; slight hot (14.0 alc.). w/beef. 16.5/91
- Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., Bordeaux blend, 2002 Babcock Fathom, 47% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon (gift, with other wines, mostly fine older Cabernets and blends, from a late friend’s estate). Dark garnet, brick edges; ripe grape, herbaceous, black fruit, berry nose; mid-big body; bigger style; tight tannins; long chewy hot finish. w/BBQ, ribs. 16.5/91
- Evolving Napa Cabernet 2002 Larkmead ($40 in 2006). Mid-brick, amber edges, viscous (14.7 alc.); big berry nose, ripe grapes, tobacco, cedar; mid-big body; softening tannins; emerging Cabernet fruit; long layered finish. w/flat iron steak. 17/92
- Napa, Calif., 2002 Chateau Montelena Petite Sirah (gift, with other wines, mostly fine older Cabernets and blends, from a late friend’s estate). Mid-dark garnet, viscous (14.3 alc.); black fruit, ripe grape, fig, mint, blackberry jam and wood nose; mid-body; balanced; good tannins; long semi-chewy, fruity, slightly hot finish. w/BBQ. 16-16.5/90-91
- Sonoma, Calif., 2000 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($60 in estate sale 2010). 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 Cab Franc, 5 Malbec; barrel aged two years. Mid-garnet, brick edges; smokey, herbaceous, black fruit, cassis, light oak nose; mid-body; balanced; softening tannins; good varietal character; long smooth fruity finish. 16.5/91
- Spottswoode 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Mid-dark garnet, brick edges; complex herbaceous, cassis, blackberry, oak, mint nose; balanced; softening tannins; good Cabernet fruit; long rich finish, hints of wood. w/grilled beef. 18/94-95