Old wines gone bad

I was boppin' around the cellar the other day to take invent ory and see what was hiding in the dark recesses of the deepest part of the racks.

Moving boxes around and sorting among the cobwebs, I found a case of wine with duct tape seemingly around every inch of the cardboard box.

I had no idea what was in the box and sat there looking at some message written in code on the outside of the box.

It was a carton from California, but I had no idea what I had placed inside and the wine case looked as though it was an original box I had taken from our old place to Ashland in early 1980.

Hurriedly, I got out my trusty blade and opened the box, cutting neatly across the fiber and duct-taped seams. What I found in the box both disappointed me and elated me.

Inside were many California wines from the early 1970s.

To my astonishment, I found a few very old, venerable Cabernets from Napa Valley, as well as some Zinfandel from Napa and some Chardonnay from Napa.

Why I had waited so long to open this case was beyond me, but there I stood with this crazy selection (I have no idea what I was thinking at the time) of wine on the concrete. Luckily, I had laid the box on its side for all of these years so that the corks were wet.

This would not be a problem for dry corks and all around deadsville wines, had I done otherwise.

In fact, had I put the box upside down, the corks might have been equally damaged by far too much pressure on the corks or a very good chance of seepage.

So, I had done the right thing, probably consciously thinking at the time that these wines would not be drunk for a year or two.

I opened the Chardonnays first and found them amber colored and way funky, smelling almost of very old bananas and varnish. Ugh! What a dope!

These had been very expensive (for the time) Chardonnays and we had come to Ashland with little resources and could have used these wines many times over to treat with friends. Ah, well.

The Zinfandels did little better. Zinfandel really does not age well.

The fruit, which is what most folks buy Zinfandel for, fades away and the alcohol levels can really become pronounced, as can the oak.

Well, these four hummers did just that and the wines smelled as well of varnish, rubbing alcohol and little else.

All of the wines also had a very decided mahogany color and were not even good enough for my vinegar barrel!

The Cabernets were, after a few weeks of sampling, overall pretty good but, alas, tired.

I think over 30 years, unless the wine were in a larger format, say a double bottle or bigger, California wines (for the most part) just can't keep up.

My impression is that most California Cabernet from Napa Valley can go 20 years max, then tend to fade away.

I do know there are and continue to be exceptions to this, but it is in my experience that the vast majority suffer when kept after 20 years, regardless of how well stored.

I also think that we sometimes confuse longevity with greatness. The right thought is "optimum."

Our best idea with putting wine in the cellar is to drink the wine at its "optimum" level of greatness.

This is why I tell folks who wish to age wines to buy at least three of the same wine.

As time goes by one can open and evaluate the wines, one by one, and taste what's happening. It may be time to drink them all or wait for "optimum."

Well, that's my sad story, really nice wines past, way past, optimum. Don't be like me, keep your eye on your stash!

See you next week!

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