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Without a Care
A Blog By Far Niente
What’s the Hype with Aging: The Key to Making Age-Worthy Cabernets, and When to Drink Them
by Far Niente | 2016 | 10:44 am
“Each vintage is our opportunity to make our greatest wine.
It’s what drives us each day.“
– Far Niente President and CEO Larry Maguire
After making Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for more than three decades, we’ve learned a few things about crafting “age-worthy” wines. One such thing is that the decision to stash a wine in the quietest corner of your wine cellar, or to pull the cork on that bottle and drink it upon release, is a matter of personal taste.
It was wine’s subjectivity that inspired us to create a Far Niente Cabernet Vintage Chart that eschews the traditional drink/hold model of vintage charts and serves more as a storied, interactive timeline of our vineyards and vintages from Oakville, Napa Valley.
From a science and viticulture standpoint, however, a wine needs to possess specific traits in order to endure – if not transform – over the course of 10, 20, even 50 years of cellaring.
Although there are dozens of qualities we look for in our vineyards and wines, for now, we’ll distill it down to our Age-Worthy Cabernet Top Four:
Tannin and Color.
These are the essential building blocks for a red wine. When it comes to tannin, you need enough mature fruit tannin – found in grape seeds, skin and stems – to ensure that the wine retains its structure over time. Color, quite literally, refers to anthocyanins, phenolic compounds found in high concentrations in the skins of dark grapes. Although color does not contribute directly to a wine’s flavor, when it binds with tannin, the resulting compounds, or polymeric pigments, do contribute to texture and mouthfeel. These polymeric pigments are “stable” color, making them key players in making wines designed to age.
From the slow, controlled introduction of oxygen to its ability to impart tannin and flavor, the benefits of oak can be varied and nuanced. In wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, which possess powerful fruit intensity, a good oak regime helps “carry” a wine’s fruit through time. That word balance is critical. Oak should refine and support a wine, not overwhelm or smother.
Moderate acidity, like tannin, gives a wine structural integrity. It also adds brightness and lift to some of the deeper, dark flavors of red wines, like Napa Valley Cabernet. When we talk about an older wine possessing a sense of vibrancy or “life,” acidity is definitely a contributing factor.
Excellent Raw Material.
At the end of the day, you can’t achieve it in the winery if it wasn’t first achieved in the vineyard. You need a great site, the right clonal material, and rootstocks that best match the soil profiles in your vineyard. And you need a team of people dedicated to keeping every single vine in balance, all year long.
Assuming you’ve got the vineyard to grow the raw material with the great tannin, color and acidity (and that you don’t over – or under – do it with oak), what steps are required in the winery to ensure your wines retain these qualities? There are the basics – possessing a sound knowledge of winemaking, maintaining great equipment, employing that top notch barrel program. At Far Niente, we also take some subtle steps that we believe help a wine not only survive but also improve over time. Below, are three we consider to be key,
We don’t overwork our wines.
From the way we sort to how we introduce oxygen during fermentation and racking, every touch on the wine has a purpose. We are gentle and careful, and it’s worth stating that good oxygen management is critical.
We work hard to achieve balanced extraction.
Although we want to be sure we’re pulling out plenty of great phenolic content – color and tannin – from our fruit, it’s very easy to go from balanced extraction to over-extraction. We pay close attention to our fermentations – smelling, tasting and analyzing daily – so that each lot is pressed off with just the right amount.
We have exacting bottling standards.
We don’t want to expose the wine to oxygen, nor do we want there to bottle to bottle variation. Again, oxygen management is critical. We want great closures, proper temperatures, accurate fill heights, and honestly, top quality sanitation. Maintaining our own bottling line here at the estate isn’t glamorous, but it’s so important. If ever there was a place for micro-management, the bottling line is it!
Even if you hold your team to the most exacting standards, the key to making a wine that not only holds up, but also beautifully transforms, over time extends beyond great science and good housekeeping.
That’s the elusive magic of wine, isn’t it?
“For us, each vintage is our opportunity to make our greatest wine. It’s what drives us each day,” says Far Niente President and CEO Larry Maguire.
How each of us defines the phrase, “greatest wine,” is truly subjective. For some, a wine’s greatness is most evident over time, when fruit and tannin have softened, exposing some of the more subtle earth and spice undertones in a wine. Others appreciate the bursts of bright fruit and intensity of flavors found in young wines. And then there are the wine lovers who find themselves planted firmly between these two extreme poles. Even among our expert winemaking team, everyone has a different “drink now” window for their wines.
Of course, to make that personal decision of “when” to drink a wine, you must first have a wine with the structural integrity to last. In other words, objectively speaking, you do need the science and the good housekeeping and, most importantly, the raw material to craft a wine that holds up, that lives and evolves over time. As Far Niente Winemaker Nicole Marchesi puts it, “The quality and ageability of each vintage is always a combination of factors, but they all harken back to our Martin Stelling Vineyard, the cornerstone of our Far Niente Estate Cabernet.”
After giving us more than 33 vintages, our Oakville vineyard has quite the story to tell. As do our wines. We hope our personalized version of a Napa Valley Vintage Chart paints a rich picture of how our estate-grown wines evolve and develop over time. We even hope that it helps you in your journey to find your own “wine window” for aging – and more importantly drinking! – Napa Valley wines.
View our Napa Valley Vintage Chart.