Wines from the Cave

Wines from the Cave

by Michael Havens 

Wine is that remarkable beverage with multiple personalities, almost as diverse as the people who grow and produce it.  The whites I have focused on, the Iberian varieties Albariño and Godello, both offer great pleasure in their youth, with interesting development over moderate time in bottle.  The Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend rewards patience.

Albariño offers floral and tropical fruit notes in aroma and flavor, virtually from the time it begins to ferment.  Those bright features persist with lees aging and bottling, refining out to a structure I call “lean, clean, and linear” on the palate, but continuing with a fascinating seashore note that almost makes you recall the great mineral waters of the world.  While the dominant fruitiness becomes less pronounced with time in the bottle, what amplifies is that hint of the ocean, with aromas that recall aged Riesling (the classic descriptor is “petrol,” but it’s actually closer to a ripe, aromatic apple and summer melons--in my experience).   A couple of years ago I discovered a full case of my 2000 Albariño (the second New World bottling ever), and over 17+ years it had evolved into an amazingly complex, yet still fresh and bright wine. 

Godello as we grow and make it shares some of the freshness and energizing acidity of its Iberian cousin, but the flavors, body, and aging potential are all its own.  If you can think of dried grass but with chamomile instead of any green notes as the overtones, and then put a ripe peach in that basket, you will have Godello.  My dear friend Joel Peterson calls it “a more interesting Sauvignon Blanc,” though many find it enough like Chardonnay to call it the Iberian version of that ubiquitous wine.  Godello ages to a broader, rounder mouthfeel and a compelling note of living earth, a quality it does share with great Chardonnay aged well.  Three to five years is not an unreasonable time to age this wine.

Our Red Wine, a blend of the Right Bank Bordeaux varieties Merlot and Cabernet Franc, is capable of extended bottle age.  This is not because one is forced to age it to soften tough young tannins, but because the elements of phenolic structure (color, tannin, aromatic precursors) react with each other slowly over time after exposure to oxygen is cut off.  In eight to ten years, you can have a wine with complex aromas (mushroom, forest floor, leather) and layers of flavor that still include dark fruits but also hints of braised meat.  And the texture is what really develops with time:  a great right bank blend develops what I associate as fine polenta or with a little more time, bone marrow.

My red wines have always aged exceptionally well.  I recently enjoyed a Cabernet Franc from my 1991 vintage, and it stole the show in a lineup of great bottles.  And what I am pleased with is that the wines don’t just survive in a state of suspended animation, they evolve to something you could never taste when the wine was young.  The reasons for this are complex, some beyond my understanding.  But they certainly include landing myself in the cooler part of Napa Valley, harvesting ripe but not over-ripe fruit, and extracting but not over-extracting the grapes in the fermenter.  Stored well, these will be some of the wines most rewarding that challenging and intellectual pleasure, delayed gratification.