Sonoma Cabs - aging and characteristic questions

Before you read, please note that I am making some broad generalizations in the interest of keeping this relatively simple.

In my limited experience, I’ve found most Sonoma Cabs aren’t built for long cellaring. One of the exceptions is Arrowood, which is my favorite producer. Warmer years produce fruit that has thicker skin, which leads to more tannins, which equals better aging potential and longevity. Is there some sort of chart that tells the relative climate of each year going back a couple decades? I ask because I’ve had quite a few vintages of Arrowood Reserve and some years are similar in basic flavor. Also, some years resolve faster than others, which I’m sure is a trait of a cooler season. For instance, 2001 is still young and tannic compared to 1999 and 2003. I’ve also tasted a similar tart red cherry characteristic in the '94, '99, and '02 bottles that isn’t in the '95, '97, '01, and '03 vintages which show darker fruits. It would be interesting to see if that has anything to do with the climate of those years.

So, any luck on a climate chart by year?


Thread drift - we served a blind flight a few years ago with Arrowood Reserve 1999, 1998 Opus and 1998 Araujo. The question was whether the good year (1999) would outshine the supposed better vineyards/wineries (by reputation, anyway). Eleven experienced amateurs. vote for WOTF? 6 Opus, 5 Araujo, 0 Arrowood. I did not vote because I put the flight together, but I agreed that the Opus and Araujo outshined the Arrowood.

Thanks for the anecdote Jay. Interestingly, I refuse to restock the '99 after drinking our last bottle on NYE because I thought it was highly overrated - and not only Arrowood Reserve, but Caymus Special Selection as well as a few other highly respected brands. While we’re on a side track, most '97s I’ve tried are simply too tannic and bold for me despite having the dark fruit that I usually enjoy. I don’t know if they’ll ever mellow to my preference. When I come across bottles of '01 from either of the above mentioned brands though, the wallet seems to open rapidly.

That does make it easy to remember the handful of vintages worth racking, especially for a dummy like me. [basic-smile.gif]

We recently drank a 1996 Dehlinger Bordeaux Blend that was just beautiful and seemed to have a long way to run yet.

Warmer years produce fruit that has thicker skin, which leads to more tannins, which equals better aging potential and longevity.

Curious theory but OK.

When looking at those Sonoma vintage charts, remember that Sonoma is a very big place with many winemakers and lots of different grapes that have different preferences. But who knows - maybe those charts will be of some use.

I disagree that Sonoma Cabs do not age well. As an example, I think the wines of Robert Young do very well on the 10-15 year plan. The Laurel Glen cabs are better even longer.

I agree with Dusty. Here’s a very personal opinion/generalization if ever you wanted one: 80% of the Cabs made in Sonoma will outlive 70% of those made in Napa, at least the last 10 years worth.


Mike, can you elaborate on why you think this is? I’m more familiar with Sonoma pinot, less familiar with either Sonoma or Napa cab, and would value the insight.

Just a data point:

We had 1988 Carmenet Vin de Garde (mostly Cab Franc) from Moon Mountain. Really well put together, with ample fruit and seemingly plenty of life left. It was the WOTN.

I drank a 95 Laurel Glen cab the other night. Absolutely delicious with no signs of fading. I wish it wasn’t my last bottle.

Dry Creek Vineyards Cabernet ages very well. The 1985 is perfect now.

Big second on the DCV Cabs. When young, their Cabs (they make some 3-4 of them, maybe more) don’t knock
you out w/ their power or intensity, but they always show a great deal of balance & grace & elegance. Sometimes,
it’s just the balance you need for them to have a long life.


It’s not just a theory put forth by me; it’s more of a generalization from what I’ve been told by some people ITB. If it’s wrong, please educate me!

I don’t have a chart. :frowning: That was the purpose of this thread - asking if anyone did have one, either for certain regions or all of California. Any help?

Still drinking early 90’s A Rafanelli cabs. They are in great shape.

I know the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but I haven’t found an inability to age to be a Sonoma problem.

From my perception, it may be partly a numbers game. . . there is just so much schlock that comes out of Napa that is overblown or mega purpled or whatever, that if I see two completely unknown bottles of cab on the shelf at a shop with one from Napa and one from Sonoma. . . same price point. . . I would generally put more faith in the Sonoma bottle being more balanced, structured, and with better acidity than the Napa.

Obviously there are scads of counterexamples, but this is my perception based on experience.

It would be tough to generalize and make a statement like that. Both counties have relatively hot growing areas with Cab, both have cooler regions, too. Both have winemakers going for soft, fruity wines, some not.
If you were going to compare I suppose something like using old vintages of Silver Oak from both counties. I think it’s more a matter of who you buy from than where it’s from. JMO
What you will find is Sonoma Cabs to be less expensive than Napa.

Maybe if I gave an example…

Here’s a general rating for the Loire region, which corresponds to my taste buds too since the 2005, 2002, and 1996 vouvrays from Huet and Pichot are fantastic:

Here’s a chart by Parker that’s also generalized:

…but if you look at the California ratings for 2012 (noted as a near perfect season), 2001 (recognized as a monster year) you’ll see he puts them at the top of the heap along with 2007. '94, '95, '02, and '05 rate nearly as well, which I’m sure most would agree.

What I’d like to have is the temperature and rainfall data for each year to see if similar climates = similar flavors. Can anyone help me out with my n00b experiment?


Whenever I generalize about wine I get into trouble. There are so many diverse wine regions in Sonoma.

But I think it is safe to say there are lots of excellent Sonoma county cabs that
1/age well
2/are relative bargains

The Simi Reserve is terrific.
I ve enjoyed some wonderful old Lambert Bridge cabs.
I believe Bettina Sichel, who bought Laurel Glen from Patrick C a few years back, is selling off some of her library. Check their website.

And then there is Jordan. In the old days it was the poor man’s Silver Oak. Jordan is no longer Alexander Valley. It is now Sonoma County Cab. Guess what, the wines age very well and often you can find an older vintage listed at a local restaurant or in the back corner of the local wine shop. It’s a sleeper and QPR.

sounds like you enjoy american oak.