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by Fred McMillin
for October 25, 2001

Robert Mondavi & Fred McMillin

Your author with Robert Mondavi (center) preparing for a program featuring his wines.

Francis Coppola Bianco

Francis Coppola Bianco


Should You
Age California Whites?



My wife and I were about to conduct a food-wine program at the Robert Mondavi winery. While checking the bottles, Robert (see photo) said to me: "I enjoy our Fumé Blanc [Sauvignon Blanc] more after it has aged in the bottle a year or more."


Crisp Versus Complex

As whites age, their refreshing crispness diminishes, but new aromas and flavors appear. So, would your California whites be more pleasing if you tucked 'em away in a cool, dark place for a while? To get an answer, I paired 13 vintage 1999 whites with older bottles of the same varietal and price. For example, two $13 Chardonnays were matched, one a 1999, the other a 1997. All the bottles were wrapped by my partner, Edgar Vogt. Did the older vintages win in the blind tasting? Here are my panel's preferences.

Price The Winner The Wine
  1999 Older  
$8 X   Chardonnay, CK Mondavi, Willow Springs, Cal.
$10 X   Francis Coppola Bianco, Cal.
$11 X   Sauvignon Blanc, Beaulieu, Napa Valley
$13   X 1997 Chardonnay, Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County
$14   X 1998 Sauvignon Blanc, Trinchero Family, Monterey
$15   X 1998 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Kenwood, Sonoma County
$17   X 1995 Reserve Chardonnay, Fetzer, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros
$18 X   Fumé Blanc, J.J. McHale, Clear Lake, Dorn Vineyard
$19 X   Viognier, Geyser Peak, Block Collection, Alexander Valley
$19 X   Chardonnay Reserve, Kendall- Jackson, Cal.
$23 X   Chardonnay Reserve, William Hill, Napa Valley
$25 X   Chardonnay Reserve, Lucas & Lewellen, Santa Maria Valley
$26 X   Chardonnay, Marimar Torres, Russian River Valley, Don Miguel Vineyard

So the younger wines won 9 matches to 4. But maybe the 1999 is simply a superior vintage. To check, we matched a handful of vintage 2000 bottles against 1999 counterparts, with these results.

Price The Winner The Wine
  2000 1999  
$10   X Sauvignon Blanc, Pedroncelli, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
$14 X   Sauvignon Blanc, Charles Krug, Napa Valley
$15 X   Viognier, Sobon Estate, Shenandoah Valley of California
$17 X   For fun, we paired two Australian Chardonnays, and the 2000 won.
Chardonnay, Rosemount, Hill of Gold


Again, the younger wine won three out of four matches. So, I'm not going to age my whites. The chances are that I and my guests will enjoy them more if I 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 October 2001