• I find it odd that entirely by coincidence I am posting a blog about aging wine on my birthday…

    Every year for many years I journeyed to a far away land called Santa Barbara County and in this land was a little village called Solvang (a small Dutch community.) Staying with friends at one of the cottages in the Chimney Sweep Inn, I would walk down the quaint cobbled street to Solvang Restaurant and consume a plate of aebleskivers (they’re kind of like if a doughnut hole and a pancake had a baby.) After breakfast we would see how many wineries we could visit in one day. I think the most we ever visited was 14.

    Big aggressive tannins and fruit greeted the tongue with as much finesse as an eight foot Viking with a two-handed long sword doing his first entrechat.

    At this point in my life I was just beginning to notice the difference between vintages and how much aging a wine played a part in how it tasted. One of the wineries that we went to every year without fail was Gainey. For ten years the ritual of going to Gainey was one of our high points in the trip, but of those many trips three wines stood out above the rest.

    The first wine I fell in love with was their 1995 Cabernet Franc. In ‘97/98 when this was released almost no one was producing Cabernet Franc, and if they were it wasn’t very good. Now in retrospect I tend to like my Cab Franc’s a little lighter than this ‘95 was, but it was truly memorable with its peppered nose, bright lush fruit, supple mouth feel and smooth tannins. Straight out of the bottle it captured your attention without the need of food to balance it.

    A year later we got a case of the new 1996 Cabernet Franc (sight unseen) by mail prior to our yearly trip. With visions of sugar plums dancing before our eyes we opened one up (the sugar plum reference was not in regards to what we hoped the wine was going to taste like, rather a whimsical way I meant to portray our wishful thinking.) It was so incredibly different we couldn’t believe it. Big aggressive tannins and fruit greeted the tongue with as much finesse as an eight foot Viking with a two-handed long sword doing his first entrechat. There were dead ballet dancers everywhere. It wasn’t pretty. We looked at each other with that all so obvious face of disappointment. The ‘95 at this point was sold out and the dream of its beauty had just been trounced upon.. heavily.

    “Well I guess we can sit on it for a few years and see what happens.”

    “Yeah and then we can have old crap instead of new crap,” I thought in response.

    We ended up leaving the case in the cellar for years. Each year we opened one up jokingly saying maybe the wine fairy came and fixed it. The wine was a touch more approachable the tannins were smoother and less aggressive, but the wine was still too harsh and big. I moved out of the LA area and visited my friends only a few times here and there.

    On one of these visits after having been to Italy a few months before. I brought a bottle of wine that I wanted to share. This was the 2003 Germano Ettore Lazzaro Serralunga d’Alba Barolo (Nebbiolo is the grape.) Sergio (the winemaker/owner) hadn’t even put a label on the bottle yet because he wanted to age it for a couple more years before releasing it. It was huge. Barolo had a really hot year in 2003. Making this wine a lot more fruit forward and darker than one would normally find a Barolo to be.

    Excitedly I described the wine and how it wasn’t ready to drink, but I wanted to enjoy it anyway. After decanting the bottle I left it breathing on the table hoping that  air would help age the wine a little through oxidation. I eventually came back to pour a glass. Everything I knew about the wine was wrong. I remembered earth, dried rose petals, young aggressive tannins, bright fruit and a huge mouth feel. This wine was soft and elegant. The tannins were so well integrated with the fruit and acidity to the point of being harmonious. The palate was blackberry, pepper, plum and tobacco. I couldn’t believe that this was the same wine I had just tasted a short time ago, but I poured it myself into the decanter. Well unbeknownst to me a second decanter had been filled and replaced the one I had used. In it was the 1996 Cabernet Franc from Gainey that had now been cellared for eight years….

    -Jonathan Hood