So much of the value of good Cabernet Sauvignon lies in its ability to produce an entrancing bouquet over time spent in the bottle. Not just hold on to attractive smells, but rather to produce new, additional smells derived from gradual, long-term oxidation. This feature implies Cabernet Sauvignon will appreciate in one’s cellar, i.e. be worth more money at age ten than it was when the winery first sold it at age four. Hence the secondary, or auction market which has many more Cabernet wines in it than any other grape variety.
Cabernets don’t always improve with age, but as a general rule of thumb ‘any Cabernet will be better at age 8 to 10 than it was at age 4 or 5.’ The caveat is to beware high alcohol / low acid Cabs that stayed on the vine until they were ultra-ripe in order to emphasize a jammy, fruit intensity early on. That has been a fashionable style in Napa since the mid-90’s. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s aimed at those consumers who drink high-priced Cabs at a young age ~ a group I always imagine in some steakhouse wearing a Stetson hat, and repeatedly inviting the waitress to sit on their lap. As if the giant belt buckle weren’t enough already. Those wines may be somewhat diminished by age twelve as their berry-like aromas begin to fade.
In our video series, Terroir Tasting on Vinobo.com we covered the reasons why wines made from Cabernet grapes grown on the hillside taste differently than wines made from grapes grown on the Bench or on the valley floor. We also did a little taste comparison to discuss how those differences may be described by people whose preferences might also vary. For the series we used younger (4-yr-old) Cabs. But we also took the opportunity to compare three 12-yr-old Cabs from the same districts side-by-side. That comparison is shown here:
I’m the aging hippie in the middle. Kate Chomko works for Wine-by-Design, a Napa marketing company, but she lives in Amador County and has culinary credentials. Zach Bryant is the winemaker for Picnic Wine Company, and also did a couple years working for Phillipe Melka.
More common than not developing great bouquet is a scenario where Cabernets do age well, but do not become worth more money after a suitable period of bottle age. That is a marketplace phenomenon which firmly illustrates how tenuous is any link between price and quality in the world of wine. There are a limited number of people spending three figures for any wine, and that cohort gets considerably smaller when the marketplace is wine auctions. Those people may know a lot about wine, but their attention is focused on approximately 200, maybe 250 brands. Those anointed brands, usually with big Parker scores, attract competitive bidding ~ which often means outrageously high prices. Meanwhile thousands of relatively fine, excellent vintage, wonderfully matured Cabernets frequently sell for well below what new releases from the same winery may command.
I do not advocate buying young Cabs with the intent to resell them down the road. Buying at retail, then selling at wholesale (and believe me, that is your only choice), is no way to ever turn a profit. I do, however, strongly recommend buying young Cabs you like, and saving several bottles to savor what happens to them by the time they turn 10- or 12-yrs-old.