Difference between vintages and how to predict what to buy

This is going to be somewhat rambling, disjointed and contradictory to my other posts in parts but please stay with me.

Firstly this entire post is centered around California, these are the only wines i currently really buy direct

I am really struggling with the old debate about drinking wine young or letting it age. Lets take the 12 and 13 vintages for example, so far almost every 12 ive tried has been enjoyable the big cabs and syrahs have been really approachable with great fruit and structure, not had many bad experiences. Now moving onto 13 they have mostly been very tannic with hard fruit and to me almost severe in their style ( a few exceptions like Becklyn Reserve) . Now 13 has a reputation of being a great vintage so only having 5 or 6 years experience of really paying attention to wine im listening to the experts and buying 13’s because it will be great one day. Now lets bring 11 into the mix, ive never enjoyed this vintage, the wines are lean and lacking in fruit. To me at least the 11 and 13 are similar in the way they drink now the 13’s do have more fruit but also they are even more tannin and austere than the 11’s. So how is everyone so confident that the 13’s are going to turn out fantastic ? when 12’s arejust so damn good right now and 13’s are so harsh why is everyone so confident that 13’s will be better ?

What concerns me is that i clearly to date prefer big young fresh wines but they have to be approachable, i dont want a tannin bomb. 13 is not so far enjoyable young so how can i predict that i can enjoy it in a few years, 12’s are great young but does this mean they will dry up and become limp and lifeless in a few years ?

So do i just stick with years like 12, i also enjoyed 9 & 10 but with limited experiences ? i know i hate 11, but what to do with 13 how will this play out ? then where does 14 fit into this as we are starting to get those wines as well ?

Another thing that im sure a veteran wine collector might say is that its good to have a variety of vintage styles, some early drinker sand some late drinkers, in that case how do you know the late drinkers are going to come around ? or do they stay harsh and green like 11’s

'13 has the structure that '11 lacked. Personally I don’t despise 2011 but I am selective who I purchase from so my experiences are normally OK. That added structure is what is pushing tasters to feel that the vintage is long lived and so much better.

Our palates differ so I can’t say with certainty what you want to know. I do know that early on in my wine enjoyment I was go big or go home. While I enjoy those wines still, to a point, I also enjoy a broader range of styles and appreciate them for what they are.

The underlying fruit of '13 should let you know that once the tannins integrate a bit that the wine will be in your wheelhouse.

Opened a '14 Myriad Sugarloaf Syrah last night that rocked. But all Mike’s wines rock so perhaps my sample size is skewed?

Just drank a 2013 Drinkward Peschon last night. Lots of fruit, good acidity and tannins that really were quite firm and almost bracing after about half an hour. There was a lot of oak. Overall, not disjointed, but also a lot of “stuff” there that time usually settles down with time.

I had bought a bunch of 70’s and 80’s California cabs because they were inexpensive, because I’d heard good things about how they age, and because they were birthday wines. I’ve been impressed with how enjoyable they’ve been. The tannins resolve and the fruit is less primary but still present in a more secondary form. I’ve had several similar wines from the late 90’s with higher alcohols and more big fruit and found them to be relatively unpleasant after a decade. I don’t mean to say (though others have implied it) that a high alcohol and fruit forward wine is going to fall apart, and recent posts about Aussie Shiraz has given me the impression that it hasn’t fallen apart rather than just not gone anywhere. But if you can feel the depth of flavor and the firmness of tannins, you’re more likely than not to have a wine worth aging. And some wines that are unbalanced in youth may stay unbalanced and I certainly don’t have the experience that many on this board have to pick them all correctly.

Also, with regards to 2011, I think that those who routinely picked early and those making wines at higher elevation made typically excellent wines though with a leaner style. They will likely age well, and a recent longitudinal tasting of Corison and recent experiences with old Ridge Monte Bello confirm my suspicions.

One thing that is worth adding to this conversation is that although ive only seriously been collecting California wine for around 5 years i have been drinking wine for over thirty years, just not always seriously. My early wines that formed an impression on me were Bordeaux never like Burgs even back then when good ones were affordable. My first real wine moment was a 1970 Phelan Segur, drunk around 83/84 that just blew me away, this was followed with a 1966 Chateau Palmer and then Rene Dauvisset 1982 Grand Clos Les Clos which still haunts me to this day it was so fantastic

I tend to drink more Euro wine than California, and the vintages there seem more dramatic than in California. I would say the only recent year which I could tell was a cooler (or “weaker”) year was 2011, which was notably more savory and not as ripe as other years, but should age alright.

Because we’ve had vintages that were very tannic yet fruity (for me, 2001 and to a lesser extent 1995) so we know that a similar profile will end up with similar results in most cases.

Again, experience. Also, “better” is a relative term. Many of us including myself enjoy at least 10 years bottle age on the better vintages of Cali Cab. You might not so it won’t necessarily be “better” for you. 2012 is a nice year to drink young and I’ve enjoyed plenty from my pet brands.

Yes, you should stick with 2012 if you like it. There’s still aging potential in that vintage, just not as much as 2013. The comments so far from people in the know here is that 2014 falls somewhere in between those two years. Some 2009’s are presently entering a nice phase. 2010 was a little bold for me so any that I have (Chateau Montelena, Lokoya, Congruence, Mt. Brave etc) will lay down for several more years of slumber.

You never really know because there’s still an element of chance. You can minimize that risk with proper storage and sticking with decent brands with a good track record or a new brand with a veteran winemaker.

Unless it’s a flawed bottle, it has to be harsh and green to begin with for the most part. There is some voodoo involved (more so with Burgundy / Pinot Noir) where strange characteristics evolve over time. Herbal elements and other secondary tertiary notes can develop as a wine ages and some fruit flavor is lost, but that’s not the harsh greenness you refer to.

Elevation was the key which most here agreed upon in the “Fear of 2011 Napa Cab” thread. It didn’t take long to figure that out either. Some of the brands stocked in my cellar had some ugly results that vintage so I didn’t buy any to rack. However, there are a few bottles of 2011 from brands that I refuse to buy from any other years (except maybe 2008 which was sorta similar to 2011, just not as ‘bad’). Outpost is almost always too bold for me, but they put out a nice product in 2011, including the stellar True Vineyard bottling.

The really fundamental question is ‘what do you like?’
It strikes me you really like younger wines when their fruit is at it’s most vibrant/intense.

On another thread you’ve expressed feelings that you just don’t appreciate what older wines have to offer. That may change in time, but for now this appears to be a simple equation:

Buy what you like, in more open / less structured vintages, whilst keeping buying constrained to ensure that you don’t have the wines lose their initial excitement by over-cellaring.

Sure you can hedge your bets a little by cellaring a few bottles of a touted structured vintage. Those tannins will drop away, and when they do, either you or the wine may have changed, and it might really appeal. However the good money is on the here and now, recognising what you like and buying according to your palate, not ours, nor a self-styled wine guru such as Parker, Galloni or the like.

If you want to experiment, then it may be more rewarding to explore variants to complement California, perhaps McLaren Vale or Barossa Aussies, or Spanish Ribera del Duero and so on.


Based on how you describe your palate, and speaking in generalizations (every vintage has exceptions):
Avoid vintages like 2011.
Buy and drink vintages like 2012.
Cellar vintages like 2013.

There are two good methods for determining when wines that need cellaring are ready:
Lay in a quantity and open a bottle every year or two after an initial wait of 3-7 years.
Wait until you see positive notes from people with similar palates.

If it turns out you don’t like how the more structured wines evolve, you can sell them and use the proceeds to go long on the next youthfully exuberant vintage.

FIFY. Still waiting for Alan’s “Nebbiolo… WTF?” thread to hit the board. [whistle.gif]

I’ll add that he should buy one 375ml as a guinea pig. Cheaper to use as the test bottle. If that drinks well, you know your 750ml bottles aren’t far from ready.

Shazam! Or if your palate shifts to more aged wine, you’ll have some you know the provenance of. Either way, it’s still a bit of a crap shoot but a fun one.

Alan-I agree with your assessment. I also much prefer 2012 as an early drinker so I’m drinking my 12’s early while I stash the 13’s. Now a few 14’s I’ve had are drinking well very young.

You would have a lot of trouble finding vintages of Monte Bello that have not aged well. I cannot remember having an over-the-hill Monte Bello. I thought their 2011 was outstanding, but remember it is not from Napa and thus may have had different growing conditions.

Alan, do storage space and/or money play any factor in your wine buying decision? They do for me.


Interesting question and debate. I would agree that the '12s are more approachable and the '13s will need more time. In my opinion this is really about the fruit in the '13 growing season (considered one of the best in Valley history). I think it gives us an indication of what R Parker is looking for in a classic wine. I make this statement rooted in the fact all winemakers have a style in which they make the wine. If you take Mike Smith or Roy Piper, two excellent winemakers, they make wines in a similar style each year, but they will listen to the nuances in the fruit. At Becklyn it’s fair to say the '12s are more approachable than the '13s, however all this said each wine offers something for everyone. Although I’m biased I believe the '11 Myriad Dr Crane to be one of the better wines I have drank.


interestingly, the Becklyn reserve was easily the most approachable 13 ive had, i would actually say i found it more approachable than the regular 12 even. So style absolutley plays a part in this, what im struggling with more than anything though is understanding what will the 13’s be in 5 years 10 years, will be they be softer and approachable or still have that hard edge that i dont like. Its difficult for me to put into words because i am fine with young Saxum or Reva but a young cab just seems to be razor blades to me. Maybe its just that, im not a fan of structured tannic cabs and thats that.

I had an experience where I happened upon, somewhat randomly, a very large tasting of the 2011 Bordeaux vintage in bottle and was invited to taste whatever I liked. I sampled at least 50 wines and felt, very strongly, the hard edge of which you speak. Recently, out of curiosity, I had a bottle of 2012 Phelan Segur because it had been rated highly by Jancis Robinson, just to get a sense of what she might have tasted to establish its quality and longevity.

These were not wines that were easy to drink. Not at all. The fruit was there, the balance and concentration, the mid palate density in the better wines. But oak was front and center and often out of proportion. And the tannins were firm, dry, often unyielding. Chalky. The finish was a bit hard to really assess given the slap-to-the-head tannins, but you could tell it was there on the better wines.

I think this is probably akin to your experience. I do t have the experience of others but can only imagine that this hard quality is exactly what softens and yields with time…

You don’t have to imagine - it is exactly what softens over time. The tannins / polyphenols bond and fall out of suspension over time creating the sediment that looks like anything from undesolved powdered drink mix to coffee grounds. Some fruit flavor and color is lost in the process, but tertiary flavors develop and the wine gets less dry and astringent. If you can imagine how those same wines will taste without the hardness / astringency and a little less fruit, you’ll be able to make decent guesses as which will have better aging potential. There’s such a thing as too much tannin though, as in 1997 Cali Cabs. Some are still tight and they might never resolve before the fruit is almost gone.

So why do young syrahs seem less hard than cabs ?

Guess you’ve never tried a young Chave Hermitage.

Don’t know. I don’t drink Syrah. Maybe they have less tannin and acid.