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Samuele Sebastiani

Samuele Sebastiani

by Fred McMillin
for September 20, 2001


Should You Age
Inexpensive California Red Wine?



Grgich label 
"Certainly inexpensive red wines, and most moderately-priced ones, can be enjoyed young and are unlikely to improve dramatically by aging in the bottle."

...Wine expert Alexis Bespaloff, Wine Enthusiast

"Balanced, harmonious red wines will stay that way [as they age in the bottle], and blustery ones will keep on blustering... A wine is not going to change its spots, even if it sits in a bottle for 10 years."

...Grape guru Bob Thompson, San Francisco Examiner


The Rage To Age

There's no doubt that a great Bordeaux Claret improves with time in the bottle, but what about the lower-priced California reds that we ordinary mortals buy? Is it worth the trouble of putting some of them in a cool, dark haven for a few years? To get an idea, we pulled 13 older reds out of our cellar, and paired them with 1998s of the same varietal and price. All bottles were wrapped by my sterling associate, Edgar Vogt, and here is how my panel voted.

Price The Winners The Wine
  1998 Vintage Older Vintages  
$8 X   Cabernet Sauvignon, Stone Creek, Appellation - California
$10 X   Merlot, Haywood, California
$10   X 1997 Bearitage, Gundlach-Bundschu, California (Merlot, Cab, etc.)
$16   X 1997 Sangiovese, Beaulieu, Signet Collection, Napa Valley
$17 X   Zinfandel, Geyser Peak, Sonoma County
$17   X 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, Kendall-Jackson, Vintner's Reserve, California
$18   X 1996 Merlot, Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County
$20   X 1996 Zinfandel, Steele, Mendocino County, DuPratt Vineyard
$20   X 1996 Zinfandel, Sebastiani, Sonoma Valley, Domenici Vineyard
$20 X   Caberenet Sauvignon Reserve, Clos du Bois, Alexander Valley
$23 X   Zinfandel, Grgich Hills, Sonoma and Napa
$30 X   Pinot Noir, Kenwood, Russian River Valley, Olivet Vineyards
$32   X 1997, Pinot Noir, Byron, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley


Six of the younger (1998) reds won, while seven of the older vintages won.

Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its ability to improve with age. Yet, in this tasting, two of the three Cab winners were the younger 1998s.



Aging modestly-priced California reds is not worth the trouble. Buy now, drink now.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



This page created September 2001