Surprise tasting!

86-year-old Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine. ― Joan Collins

In the Hood

Thy shalt not covet thy neighbor’s connections

Oh yeah? As I’ve mentioned before, it’s always good to have a neighbor who works for a premier winery. Ours of course is Kathleen Scanlon, majordomo for Silver Oak Winery in Napa. Life is never dull around Kathleen, and it can sometimes border on bodacious.

Here’s how it went down on Friday.

Okay, so maybe my response was a little effusive, but I’ve never tasted a premium wine that old and I was very curious. Seems there was a VIP event at Silver Oak that day and a representative from Simi had opened the vault and brought a few very old bottles of its Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to share with the guests. There was about a half-bottle left after the gathering and Kathleen, knowing her neighbors as the oenological opportunists we are, brought it home to share.

I did a quick bit of research online and found some interesting history on one of the popular wine merchant websites. To think that this wine we were about to taste was made just two years after the repeal of Prohibition was amazing. Read this (click image to enlarge):

To make the whole experience even more profound, I had just spent the afternoon barrel-tasting and topping off my own 2020 vintage wines, and had been quite pleased with the progress of my Cabernet Sauvignon. I even brought back a small sample bottle so Deb could have a taste, and we had just drunk it with dinner when Kathleen texted. So now we were going to take our palates on a historical timeline from a baby Cabernet only seven months in the barrel to one old enough to be its great-grandfather!

When Kathleen finally got home she wasted no time showing off her treasure. The bottle was scuffed, and the label was stained and had come loose, but jeez, think what you might look like at 86 years old!

Kathleen is always telling people to buy a magnum of their “birthday wine”—a vintage of the same year they were born—and put it aside for a special birthday in the future. What she hadn’t realized until she got home was that 1935 was the year her adorable mother, Sachiko, was born. Sachiko lives with Kathleen and was quite excited about all of us tasting her birthday wine!

So, what was it like?

To start, it was very brown. The Simi rep had told Kathleen that the cork was pretty much mummified, and the wine had oxidized quite a bit. But the amazing thing was that the aroma was still varietal—it still smelled like Cabernet Sauvignon! And when you tasted it you could still discern fruit.

I was expecting something this old to likely taste pretty bad, especially when you consider that the winemaking equipment and techniques of the time probably didn’t even measure up to my own home winemaking standards. It was a wine past its prime, for sure. Maybe not exactly drinkable, but not something you hurried to spit out either. I doubt you’d want to drink a lot of it at this stage but I had nearly a full wineglass, and Walt, one of our other neighbors, had a couple. Amazing to think simple grape juice in the hands of someone like Isabelle Simi could last that long.

Thank you Kathleen for the share!

Coates’ Law of Maturity

Just to add a final thought, Coates’ Law of Maturity is a principle used in wine tasting relating to the aging ability of wine. Developed by the British Master of Wine, Clive Coates, the principle states that a wine “will remain at its peak (or optimal) drinking quality for a duration of time that is equal to the time of maturation required to reach its optimal quality.” In other words, if a wine takes 10 years to reach its optimal quality, it’s likely to stay good for another 10 years, and hence enjoy a 20-year aging process.

The principle goes on to elaborate (I know, it’s British), “During the aging of a wine certain flavors, aromas and textures appear and fade. Rather than developing and fading in unison, these traits each operate on a unique path and time line. The principle allows for the subjectivity of individual tastes because it follows the logic that positive traits that appeal to one particular wine taster will continue to persist along the principle's guideline while for another taster these traits might not be positive and therefore not applicable to the guideline.”

Any way you look at it, our 86-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon from Simi Winery is an outlier in this equation. But I sure would have liked to have tasted it in 1945, or ‘55 or even ‘65!