So what does one drink when hitting a milestone birthday like the big 5-0? I looked back through my wine log of the many wines I’ve tried through the years and realized my tastes have changed along with my aging body. When I started drinking wine, without knowing why, I tended toward fruit-forward big red wines. That’s a rather typical American red-wine drinker profile (for my age) as it’s what I grew up on and a style that comes naturally from our “warmer” climate.
Napa was the most well-known wine region when I started drinking wine, thus I started drinking it first and in the 90s and early 2000s, the style was big, bold, ripe fruit, heavy oak, and high alcohol. Ripe fruit and high alcohol can contribute to a sense of sweetness which Americans also tend to like.
Through a lot of wine study, global wine exposure, and just getting older, I realized that my tastes have changed a bit. I no longer like overt oak, prefer lower alcohol, and gravitate toward earthy (versus fruity) wines such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Tempranillo, or an aged Napa Cabernet. I’ve heard many people say that as they age they prefer lighter-bodied wines. Clearly Barolo and Brunello aren’t “light” wines so I have a ways to go on that one but my preferred style today is different than it was 20 years ago.
Mostly I’ve learned that a wine’s balance is one of the most important things in determining a good drinking experience. “Balance” in a wine means that its key elements (alcohol, tannin, acid, and flavor profile) are all in harmony. This is true for any category of wine from entry-level to premium levels so a balanced wine doesn’t necessarily need to cost a lot of money.
However, where age-worthy red wines are concerned, balance often requires time as the wine elements of alcohol, tannin, acid, and flavor need time to meld together in a pleasing way and to develop the complex tertiary flavors (mushroom, cigar, tobacco) that I’ve grown to love. Unlike for most humans, time and age co-exist quite happily with wine.
As I started pulling out wines for my 50th birthday month, I wondered if I would still like some of them since I’d bought some long ago and knew that my tastes have moved in a different direction. Some were joyous surprises while a few were disappointing jammy bombs but most were wonderful in their own way. Here are a few favorites along with some other wines I got to enjoy compliments of great family and friends.
2012 Conterno Fantino Sori Ginestra Barolo
This wine was one I tried before it was even bottled while in Piedmont, Italy 2 years ago. I didn’t think I’d ever see it again but it showed up in Binnys and I immediately snapped it up. Unbelievably, it tastes even better than I remembered it with black cherry, leather, tobacco, savory herbs, zingy acidity, and a cascading finish.
2011 Coppo Pomorosso Barbera d’Asti
Named for a red apple tree that grows on top of the vineyard’s hill, this is the flagship Barbera that Coppo makes (and they are Barbera specialists). Produced only in the best years, the grapes come from three vineyards located in Agliano Terme at 450 feet elevation. The soil is calcareous clay marl and rich in minerals which gives the wine finesse, minerality, and longevity. Aged 14 months in French oak, this wine sings with elegant cherry, blackberry, licorice, and violet with mineral notes, supporting acidity, and well-integrated soft tannins.
1967 Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Porto
A reviewer in Wine Spectator described this wine as “rarified air” and I think that’s the perfect description. To me, this is the Mona Lisa of wine as it shows what heights great wine-making can attain. Molasses, caramel, walnut, licorice, menthol, and ginger are only a few of the sumptuous flavors in this wine. There are layers and layers of nuanced spice, herbs, fruit, and earthy notes that culminate in such rich and decadent aromas that you can smell the bottle from the next room. The structure of the wine itself is remarkable with gripping viscosity, tautly tuned sweetness with vibrant acidity, and a haunting finish that is literally unshakeable.
This wine is technically a Colheita (meaning all grapes were harvested in the same year) but Taylor Fladgate calls it “Single Harvest”.
2011 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon (Magnum)
This wine is bursting with black plum, blackberry, dark chocolate, cedar, spice, and earthy notes. 2011 was a cooler growing year in Napa but you wouldn’t know it from the ripe fleshy fruit and robust smooth tannins on this classic wine. The finish is long and velvety now but this wine can easily last another decade. A perfect expression of Napa Valley Cabernet and a great reminder of why it’s so famous.
2006 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Cabernet Sauvignon
Well-structured robust wine tasting of black fruit, licorice, violet, and graphite mineral flavors. Ripe showy fruit intermingles with leather and spice on top of powerful tannins and a long decadent finish. The best of power and elegance combined.
2012 Lail J. Daniel Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon
I’m not a big “point person” but this was the first 100-point wine I’ve ever had (as rated by Robert Parker). This wine is an explosive powerhouse with an ethereal finish that clings on for dear life.
The Lail family has a deeply-entrenched Napa history through their great grand-uncle Gustave Niebaum who founded Inglenook in 1879. This wine comes from three different vineyards (Calistoga, Oakville, and Howell Mountain) representing some of the best Napa has to offer. Made of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot and aged 20 months in 75% new French oak, this wine has hedonistic aromas of violet, blackcurrant, pencil lead, forest floor, sweet spice, and wet stone. Incredible freshness and vibrancy is punctuated by its showstopper finish. One of those few wines that takes your breath away.
2013 Vineyard 7/8 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain
This single-vineyard wine from Spring Mountain is dark and unctuous. Layered flavors of black pepper, anise, savory herb, and a mineral backbone support rich black fruit. Tightly-wound tannins (typical of mountain wines) unfold with decanting and brisk acidity elevates the intensely full body. The 15.1% alcohol slips nonchalantly into the background illustrating how seamlessly this wine comes together. Substantial time in oak (26 months) is still evolving and will help this wine age many more years.
2011 Mastro Janni Brunello di Montalcino Vinga Loreto
This wine is a dark and mysterious beauty that hits great heights with voluptuous body, elegant structure, chewy tannins, and a silky smooth finish. Intense flavors of fresh-cut cigar, juicy black fruit, and Asian spice explode on the palate and continue to interrupt conversation because it’s hard to get past just how good the wine is. Aged 36 months in French oak barrels (sizes 16, 25, and 33 hl) with an additional 6-8 months in bottle.
2013 Beaux Freres The Upper Terrace Pinot Noir
A regal wine with great finesse and purity. From Ribbon Ridge in Willamette Valley, Oregon, this wine is made from 6 Dijon Pinot Noir clones and tastes of exotic red plum, sweet cherry, and earthy mushroom. Somehow it manages to taste delicate and muscular at the same time. Unfined and unfiltered treatment contributes to its complexity, freshness, and lingering finish.
2007 Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz
This is a monumental wine made in a deep rich style unique to Australia. Located in the Nagambie Lakes region of central Victoria, the 1860 vineyard (which was nominated in 2002 U.S. Wine & Spirits Magazine as one of the 25 Great Vineyards of the World) has some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world.
This wine kicked off with brooding black and red fruit and an incredible mouth-coating texture. A few hours later, the fruit was intertwined with dried herbs, liquorice, smoke, and dark earth. Fine-grained tannins and subtle oak cascaded into a long, rich, savory finish. I would have loved to try it the following day but of course it didn’t last that long.
While I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about turning 50, I’d have to say it’s off to a good start!