Older California wines

I have been fortunate over the last couple of months to have had a couple of older California Cabernet that have just been outstanding. And they were regular cuvees, not some super duper special private reserve cult wine made in tiny quantities and selling for thousands of dollars.

A couple of months ago I had an outstanding 1974 Sterling Cabernet that I bought a couple years back for $20 from a store that had purchased a cellar. It was a very beautiful wine, rich, balanced and with a long finish.

Saturday night I was at a friend’s house and had a 1976 Joseph Phelps Cabernet. Just a beautiful picture of balance. Outstanding wine. I had bought some at the same time as my friend and had loved the wine but had finished mine about 20 years ago.

I hope that modern California Cabernet will age like these wines. Time will tell. Any thoughts on which current California wines will be good at 30 years plus?

I always try to look at how the wines drink young from makers who have a track record of improving in the bottle and living a long time. Forman, Ridge, Mayacamas and Spotteswoode are four off the top of my head. So many wines do not taste and feel like these do in their youth and thus I do not think most will last and improve in the bottle. But I suspect that is the the intent of that style either.


Certainly agree with you on the first three. The fourth one is interesting because I have never had an older Spotteswoode – I have never liked the wine well enough young to buy it to age it. What is your experience with older Spotteswoode. Thanks for the interesting suggestion.

I would recommend anything that Mark Herold makes. Very powerful, fruit forward wines with alot of backbone. One of my personal favorites that I believe will have longevity is Kobalt Wines. (kobaltwines.com) They just sent their 07 mailer out.

I have been buying Kobalt since their first vintage and the earlier wines are fabulous. He made Merus and that has proven to be very age worthy. I would also recommend Buccella as well as O’Shaughnessy for under $100 range. Most of the mountain wines in my opinion are very age worthy. Especially those from Mt. Veeder.

Caymus has always worked for me. Both the SS and regular bottling. The 1997 regular Caymus is heaven to my mouth. The 94’s were also awesome. I have had numerous 97 SS recently and it still has many years of life in the bottle left.

For top dollar wines, I would place my bet on Phelps Insignia or Caymus SS. Has a great track record over the years.

For boutique wines, you might consider Maybach, Futo, Celani Family Adore, Kapscandy and V29.

For Pinot’s , Radio-Coteau is one of my absolute favorites for a chance to age for years.

As for Spottswoode, I have had the 97 a couple of times , it was great. I have had 2002 and can tell this will be a very good wine in about 3-7 more years in my opinion. You might want to try Staglin as well.

Just my 2 cents .

What was the first vintage?

2001 and its still a baby, but you can tell that it is aging very well. I have had it numerous times. They recommend a min. of 5-8 years before opening…

I failed to mention that in my opinion, I don’t think many , if any Cal. Cab’s will age well for 30 years. I can honestly say that I have not enjoyed the few 70’s and some of the 80’s wines I have tried with few notable exceptions

I think most Ca wines are at its peak in about 10-15 years

Certainly not ‘most’ unless you introduce some pretty significant qualifiers.
I’ve had a number of 10 year old cabs that I thought needed drinking soon,
notably the 99 BV GdL and 97 Cinq Cepages.

Back to the question, I was remarkably surprised by the 1978 Sycamore Creek.
Amazingly fruity and youthful for a producer that was new and remains largely unknown.

Obviously the top Santa Cruz Mountains cab producers are still making balanced, structured wines
for the long haul; Ridge, Mount Eden, Kathryn Kennedy and SCMV all have good track records,
although Jeff at SCMV has tweaked the house style recently to make it more approachable young;
it remains to be seen whether the long term ageability is affected.

I agree there are few that get more interesting past that point. But there were lots of wines from the 70s and 80s – Mondavi, Phelps, BV, Ridge to name just a few – that are still drinking beautifully now. Howard’s question was whether any of the current wines are likely to develop that way and hold up that long.


I may have had more and do not remember but off the top of my head I can remember the '91 and '92 Spotteswoode Cabs being excellent. I think the '91 has yet to hit peak similarly to some other age worthy Cabs from that vintage.

I just had a 1989 Guenoc Cab Beckstoffer Vineyard reserve the other night and it was terrific. Aside from the wine itself, which was right in its prime and could easily have withstood more aging, the bottle was notable for the label on the back that noted the wine’s “tannins which promise a long and graceful life.” How many cab makers today embrace salutary benefits of tannins on aging? It seems “tannin management,” i.e., making the wine softer and more agreeable, is of primary concern these days.