Oscar night is party night at our house. It's also an excuse to open some wines that I have cellared and serve them to like-minded aficionados. Among this year's wines of interest was a 1996 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages. This blend of five Bordeaux varietal grapes (with Cabernet Sauvignon dominating) was Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 1999. How would it be almost nine years later?
The answer is spectacular, by all accounts. This black cherry and cedar-scented red was phenomenally balanced and perfumed. It seemed to be showing its all. I tasted and reviewed this wine upon release and loved its quality, balance and promise. But the wine is even better now. Some of its initial explosive power has melded into a more rounded fruit and oak balance. The perfume is bigger and more resounding than early on; the aftertaste is far more lengthy and expressive.
Do I really remember? Yep. It's one of the reasons I do this for a living. I may forget who was sitting across the table at dinner a decade ago, but I will remember the wines and how they tasted. I don't know if this is a gift or—as my wife might say—a curse. Clearly the company we keep is more important to her than the wine is—as long as it's tasty. I figure between the two of us, the evening's memories are complete.
We also drank a 1999 Oreno at the Oscars, one of the emerging superstar, Super Tuscans made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. What a brooding, saturatedly rich and delicious red this is. It felt nourishing, as if one had just eaten a plateful of liver and onions.
These examples help fortify my plea to buy wines young and keep them a while before drinking them. You might complain that I'm talking about expensive wines and, yes, on Oscar night that was the case. But I also collect many wines that cost $20, or far less, and follow the same routine. Here's a short list of affordable wines that I put down upon purchase and recently drank. These wines were all delicious and extremely enjoyable during the recent past. They've all peaked, but how much fun it was to taste wines that grew, changed and improved with a small initial investment. Look for the current releases of these same wines today.
Here are many others that will really give you your money's worth if you'll just hold onto them for a while. Try a bottle. If you like it, get at least two more to put away. Open one in a year or so and the other somewhere further down the road. Most whites will peak at two years, while many reds may benefit from five or more. The joy of opening your own bottle, one that you have personally squirreled away for an occasion, is a great big kick.
Tasting a 2004 Rubicon Estates Cask Cabernet is not only exhilarating, but a walk back in time. For those lucky enough to have tasted Inglenook Cabernets from the 1940s, '50s and early '60s, you know what definitive character those wines possessed, especially the separate "Cask" releases. There's a reason that these wines, along with the Beaulieu Georges de la Tour Cabernets from the same era, were considered California's "gold standard." Its dryish yet generous bouquet and mouth texture defined and celebrated the quality known as "Rutherford Dust." The aging in American oak barrels built a mighty fortress behind the impeccable fruit, and delivered wines that, in a simpler time, were as easy to identify as the First Growths of Bordeaux.
These times have returned with a vengeance with Rubicon's Cask Cabernet. From the very first bottle I tasted, from the 1998 vintage, these wines have been a consistent reminder of what really were the good old days—and this may be their finest, most lithe effort yet. The use of 100 percent new American oak in 500-liter puncheons pays hommage to its storied heritage.
2004 Rubicon Estates Cask Cabernet, $75
Razor-sharp fruit with the sweetest blackcurrant, blackberry and ripe cherry nose lavishly framed by charred American oak. Touches of iron and iodine emerge over time. Perfect middle-weight mouth texture with ultra-fine tannins disguised by remarkable fruit generosity. Flavors continue to grow over a six-hour span of delight with polished elegance, grace and a gentle dry finish. It's really a shame to drink this now. Wait six to 10 years and uncork one of history's greatest names in red. A joyful child just waiting to grow up.
Arturo's column appears the second Wednesday of every month. He can be reached at email@example.com.