The other week, the Wine Media Guild of New York hosted a luncheon to showcase a number of California’s Centenary Wineries. Schramsberg, Wente, Buena Vista, Charles Krug, Beaulieu, Simi, and Gundlach Bundschu–all the players were there. And with a number of older vintages on hand, this was an awesome opportunity to taste the state of west coast wines before they fell victim [in]to the vat of jam.
Robert Mondavi Jr., whose grandparents purchased Krug in 1943 (both 150 acres and the brand name), came to speak to us about the wines. And though I had to leave a little early, I sat long enough to learn that Mondavi’s father had purchased additional acres in the late 60’s/early 70’s, but stopped acquiring when the prices reached $8-9,000 an acre, because he considered the cost too high. Now, with 45,000 acres of vineyards in Napa, the average price per acre is $200,000! Wow.
Obviously, WMG members were most curious about the shift in winemaking and when it occurred. And while Mondavi admitted that Robert Parker had “clearly been an influence…with people chasing scores…” he also suggested that the biggest factor was that in the 60’s-80’s, Krug used rootstock, which caused the “photosynthesis efficiency to slow down a bit”, meaning that the “sugars were not increasing as fast.” Now, he suggests, the sugars develop much faster, due in part to the “climate change variability” and NOT “global warming…because each area will experience something different.”
In addition to all that, what was most remarkable were the effects of age, and winemaking style, on the wines. The older vintages were like elegantly aged matrons, with bodies of taut skin, fine muscle and chiseled bone, donning a life’s work of carefully acquired jewels. Gone were the days of excess fat and incessant worrying about meaningless sh*t. These bottles held the wisdom of age and the meaning of life. And while the Pinot Noir wines from Buena Vista were lovely across the vintages (1981, 1990, and 2007), the Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the 80’s and on, were remarkably obese and therefore much less appealing to me.
The second bottle of 1974 Simi Reserve showed dark soil earth and fruit, integrated like the colors of a candle’s flame. There were notes of cranberry without astringency, tannins for texture, and fruit inspired flavors and acidity. Balanced like the Buddha, there was a touch of rose, and a sense of peace that I imagine accompanies age and time.
Charles Krug’s 1966 and 1974 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon wines upstaged the 15%abv 2008. The 1966 vintage showed fresh tobacco, not dried, and a cloud of eucalyptus, with cherry and light cranberry fruit. The spices were earthy, like corriander, and the tannins velvety and harmonious, keeping tune with the still bright acidity that finished long.
Krug’s 1974 wowed me with its funky oystershell/low tide minerality. Followed by an earthy herbaceousness, there was light horseradish on red fruit, and finishing notes of said fruit folded into tannins and spice.
Thanks to Deborah Parker Wong for sponsoring the luncheon and to all those who contributed their wines.