I know numbers lie, but in the eighties I think they lied less. Alcohol levels were not an issue, so if they were less than accurate on their labels, they did it for convenience instead of as a marketing ploy. Yet, these labels of two wines from the 80’s made me think.
I opened two of my cellar wines over the weekend; a 1989 Girard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1980 Fisher Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon - each were 13% or less. Both were excellent wines that had aged gracefully. In fact, the Fisher was an extraordinary bottle still showing great depth, richness and layer after layer of complexity.
How can that be? A twenty-six year old wine with less than 13% alcohol that is still rich and complex? The reason is these wines were made to last, to expand and develop over time.
If anything should make today’s winemakers sit back and contemplate the current fashions of winemaking, it is bottles like these. We must seriously ask the question; how will today’s 14+% wines taste in twenty-six years? We certainly don’t know the answer, but the quality that these two bottles showed should make a lot of people insecure about extended aging of today’s California (and others) Cabernet Sauvignon.
Today they make’em to drink now. To taste great in a press tasting when only two years old. This was a concept that never occurred to Steve Girard and Fred Fisher when they made these magnificent wines. They aspired to make Cabernet Sauvignon that would develop greatness over time. The philosophy that made Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon famous. They were trying to make great wines not great points.
A winemaker that makes wines like these today is consciously sacrificing high press scores when the vintages are first reviewed. This is courage not many have. It would be very sad if great California Cabernet Sauvignon, like these two wines, was a thing of the past.
(pictured: Fisher Wedding Vineyard)