aging washington wines continued: seven hills reds

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Monday's blog about the lovely 10-year-old Merlot from Forgeron prompted two interesting followups. First came a note from a reader:

"Mr. Gregutt, I have read your articles in the Wine Enthusiast for years and just read your notes on the Forgeron Merlot and aging. I am curious of your opinion on 2 wines. I have followed, whether mistaken or not, tasting notes from Parker and K&L over the years. I have a 1970 Magnum of Latour that most people say is still backwards. I also have a 1975 La Mission Haut Brion that I would cry if over the hill as with the Latour. I would appreciate your thoughts. I recently opened a 1983 Leoville Las Cases and while it was good, I think it had a faded some and paled compared to a 2000 Quilceda Creek cab at the same dinner. I am not a fan of young wines but hate to let any wines fade.”

Intrigued by the notion of a 42-year-old wine that was "still backwards," I checked with two sources far more knowledgeable than I am about old Bordeaux.

Michael Broadbent rated both vintages highly, and predicted a drinking window of 2010 – 2020 for the Latour. So that wine, especially in magnum, might be just about perfect. Broadbent's notes on the La Mission Haut Brion conclude "For those with exotic tastes and a sound constitution." Hmmm...

Roger Voss, who lives in Bordeaux and covers those wines for Wine Enthusiast, answered my query as I had more or less anticipated. “Both these wines should be (just) OK, but definitely need to be drunk. The 1975 La Mission should be better. It also depends on how these two bottles have been stored.”

I have to say that for most wine drinkers a 1970 Latour, even in magnum, could hardly be called backwards. It's 42 years old! It may be hard, unyielding, tannic, even impenetrable. But how much longer should anyone wait? My advice: drink these wines as soon as possible.

The next day I was invited to taste some library selections at Seven Hills winery in Walla Walla. In preparation for an upcoming dinner, Cabernets from 1998, 1995, 1993, 1992 and 1990 (a reserve) had been opened, along with a 1999 reserve Merlot. All the wines had been stored since bottling at the winery, always a plus, but some were definitely showing their age. I don’t know of any wines from anywhere in Washington (or Oregon or California for that matter) that actually improve for 30 or more years, though some may prevail. There’s a big difference.

The optimum window for drinking most Washington reds seems to be between 8 and 12 years of age, unless you are really drawn to faded fruit. Among the Seven Hills wines, the 1999 Merlot was exceptional, with mature fruit, tobacco, a whiff of funk and a bit of cinnamon. The 1993 Cabernet, just 12% alcohol, was surprising – high in acid, with a mix of herbs and sweet tomato flavors. Certainly ready to drink, but nicely evolved and interesting.

Best of show for me was the 1990 Seven Hills Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The oldest wine, it had more than doubled the decade of aging predicted on the technical sheet, drank like a dream, and might well have another decade of life left in it.

Pick of the Week – Seven Hills 2011 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; $30
There will be no reserve Cabernet from Seven Hills in this vintage and, as is sometimes the case, the regular bottling is all the better for it. Here the addition of fruit from Klipsun, Artz, and other blocks generally used in the Pentad bottling adds heft and depth. Lovely aromas of raspberry and cherry, highlights of basil and other fresh herbs, and bracing natural acidity create a perfect mix of flavors, that remain delicate yet penetrating.

2 comments:

Brandon Redman said...

Nice post, Paul. At a recent tasting pitting Walla Walla Cabs vs Red Mountain Cabs, the #2 WOTN (besting Col Solare, QCreek Galitzine, Chat. Rollat) was a 2003 Seven Hills Klipsun Cab. I had a 2002 Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval red last year that was mind-blowing. Their wines improve with age as well as if not better than any other WA winery.

PaulG said...

Thanks Brandon. Sounds like an excellent tasting. Seven Hills wines tend to be less flashy than many, but beautifully proportioned and proven to age well.

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