Monday, September 22, 2008

Old Californians: 1992 Mount Eden Pinot Noir Edna Valley, 1983 Scharffenberger Brut Mendocino

I continue to be surprised by the slow aging trajectory of California wines, or at least the ones from good producers made in or prior to the early 1990's. I'm not talking about Cabernet here, which of course has the capacity to age well for a few decades, but about Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and even Chardonnay. Incidentally, I had three bottles of Cronin Chardonnay a few weeks ago: an '85 Napa which was dead, an '85 Alex Valley (probably Stuhlmuller vineyard) which still had rich, tasty golden fruit and plenty of life, and an '84 Santa Cruz Mtn that also was lively and bright, with lovely acidity. Well in the past few days I have had some more old California wine, one which I expected a lot from and one of which I expected little, if anything, of interest.

Let's start with high expectations first. The '92 Mount Eden Edna Valley Pinot was part of a cellar recently purchased by K&L. Since it was not produced from the venerable estate's prized Santa Cruz Mountain fruit, we were retailing the wine for a modest $19.99. The color showed relatively young, with just a touch of bricking. Deep aromas of plum, dark cherries and spice carried over to the palate, but fruit was all there was. Ripe, bordering on sweet Edna Valley fruit. Definitely still there, but without any complexity or the amount of acidity I enjoy in Pinot Noir. A bit of heat on the finish (13.6% abv). It tasted better with sauteed chicken breasts, but still a bit of a disappointment. I guess that's what you get for expecting a lot from a Pinot Noir grown from grapes at a lattitude similar to that of Sevilla.

Now for the surprise showing. The 1983 Scharffenberger Brut was pretty good! I imagine the grapes came from the Anderson Valley. Some funky, impure, elmer's glue type aromas eventually blew off to reveal spicy apple pie notes, with some toffee and lemon curd as well. On the palate the wine had a soft bead, but still with enough effervescence to refresh. Decent attack, lacking a good bit in the mid-palate, but with a very cleansing, lemony, acidity on the finish. Simple but rather tasty. Well worth the $10 closeout bin price tag. Am I going crazy here or does moderately priced California sparkling wine from long ago actually age well?