Putting Simple Wines to Tests of Age and Environment

Ever wonder what would happen subjecting simple wines, intended for immediate drinking pleasure, to extended aging terms in unsuitable environments?  It’s a risky wager and not a fully recommended strategy, even with careful wine selection and pristine cellaring conditions.  While vinous curiosity has driven some oddball aging decisions in the hopes of padding my stash with more bottles showing advanced flavor and aroma nuances, (you can read more about when wine is ready to drink in this post at Palate Press), I  would never have purposely put in motion the unplanned experiment I wrapped up visiting my parents in West Palm Beach, FL this past weekend.

My folks live in Florida and I visit them once a year from Boston.  Bring the grandkids down, eat some of Mom’s Jewish soul food, snag a few authentic bagels, hack away at a round of rusty winter golf, hugs, kisses, and home.  When we all lived in Brooklyn together in the 60s and early 70s, we drank Manishewitz at Passover.  Fine wine was not part of the ethnic cultural fabric we were weaving in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  But now, Mom and Dad enjoy when I bring home a decent bottle or two from a trip to the Winn Dixie (slim pickings as you will soon see).  Nothing special, just a drinkable quaff.  Somehow, I always buy one too many bottles forgetting that a glass or two is all Mom and Dad are looking for.

So, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I opened their sideboard cabinet to find four bottles sitting around from earlier visits including 1999 Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel, 2001 Columbia Crest Semillon/Chardonnay, 2001 Columbia Crest Chardonnay, and 2002 Mouton Cadet White.  Nothing too exciting, but a good 9-10 years of bottle age to check out!  It was time to open these wines to see if we were in for a surprise, or more predictably, be pouring them down the drain.

I remember buying the Ravenswood and the Columbia Crest wines, but not the Mouton Cadet.  This cabinet was not temperature controlled, and who knows what kind of temperature or humidity swings occur in my parent’s Florida home when air conditioning fails, storms roll through, and periods of travel interrupt steady cool air.

Here were the results:

1)1999 Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel:  This wine received low ninety point scores on release from the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.  I would have suspected that Ravenswood’s “No Wimpy Wine” approach would create the best shot at survival.  Maybe so, but the cork crumbled when disgorging.  The wine was totally oxidized, brown around the edges, all the fruit was missing, and alcohol and heat dominated.  My Dad actually liked it.   I think it reminded him of the cheap Schnapps that my grandfather would toast with.  Undrinkable.

2) 2002 Mouton Cadet:  Rusty orange in color.  Trouble in evidence before even opening.  The wine, composed of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, was also completely oxidized.  But, the cork was in excellent shape and there was no leakage.  There were vegetal, raw mushroom, and medicinal aromas.  The wine smelled a bit like urine.  Undrinkable.

3)2001 Columbia Crest Chardonnay:  The wine was a light, yellow, golden color.  Surprisingly bright and clear and still alive.  There were no advanced aromas in evidence on the nose, but a good waft of pears came through nicely.   The wine had solid structure, did not appear to be in decline AT ALL, and presented itself with a rich and full mouthfeel.  If I was told this wine released last year I would not doubt it.  Surprisingly drinkable and enjoyable, but not sure what was acheived in the aging process.  Not worth the wait, but battle tested.

4) 2001 Columbia Crest Semillion/Chardonnay:  While the wine was certainly in decline, it had a honeyed, roasted chestnut advanced aroma that was quite pleasing and enjoyable.  The wine was starting to get a little flabby around the edges, but still had a very nice round and smooth mouthfeel.  It was fun to drink, offered the most acceptable advanced flavors of the entire bunch, but was flirting with the end of its life.  I was glad to taste it, and would enjoy it with the right kind of food, but it was on the wrong side of it’s life curve.

The experiment produced a 50% drinkability rate.  Of the wines that were still alive, one did not advance and simply clung to its original identity. The other did advance, took on some old wine characteristics, but was flirting with the end of its natural life.  How surprising that the two white wines from Washington State managed to survive and the old world fruit from Bordeaux did not.  The Zinfandel has to be disqualified from the test due to cork damage.

It was unplanned, but an interesting experiment.  In the right cellar conditions, the outcome could have been more interesting and the Zinfandel might have lived and who knows about the Mouton Cadet.  I am going to buy a case of mixed mass-produced wines of decent quality and stick them away in  my cellar for 10 years.  It will make for a fun evening down the line, there is very little to lose, and lots to discover.