What a Difference a Year Makes

Monday, December 15, 2008

A year ago at the Hingham Wine Merchant's annual holiday show, I wanted to round off a case of wines I was buying so I threw in a couple of bottles of 2004 Artesa Cabernet Sauvignon Napa/Sonoma. I thought the wine was decent, though it's hard to tell at a wine tasting where dozens of wine are sampled. Shortly thereafter, I brought a bottle to a neighborhood holiday party.

The wine was a *stinker* at the party. Not only was it uninspired aromatically, but it had an excessive amount of sediment. Nearly every glass poured from the bottle was cluttered up with significant chunks of debris which made it hard to enjoy the wine at all.

So each time I looked through my wine refrigerator looking to select a bottle for the evening for the past year I'd see the Artesa; and I'd pass. At a retail price in the mid-$20s, it was too expensive to drink on a weeknight, and not nice enough to save for a special occasion. So last week, I decided to crack open the 2nd bottle.

Much to my surprise, the 2nd bottle was *fantastic*. I was stunned! It was quite possibly the most near-perfect wine I've had in months. I gave it 92 points (see my Corkd review here) but I could have easily gone higher. It smelled of deep dark fruit and smoke: Good smoke- like the smell of the Capital Grille on Newbury Street in Boston. It was dense, fruity and savory on the palate. It wasn't too over the top either- it showed some restraint and finesse. It was an amazing California Cabernet.

So I'm left to wonder- what happened here? Was it:

  • A case of bottle variation?

    It's quite possible. Like I said the first bottle threw sediment and the second had none at all. I don't think it's possible for sediment to dissipate over time, so it would seem that the two bottles were quite different.

  • A case of settings my expectations low and being pleasantly surprised?

    That's possible too. I'm frequently disappointed by wines that are overly hyped or expensive- perhaps this is a similar effect in the opposite direction? Perhaps I was so sure this wine would be a stinker that I was amazed that it was even mediocre and consequently was blown away.

  • A case of a wine improving over time and catching it at a better time?

    This is the most interesting possible angle, and one that I hope is the case. I'm skeptical though- could the wine possibly evolve this much in just a year? I dunno. I've heard people in the wine trade say "I tasted this wine last year and I was like 'meh' and this year I'm like 'woah'!"
If I had to guess, I would say it was a combination of bottle variation and catching the wine at just the right time. This experience makes me think that it might be worth trying to wait until California Cabs are 4-5 years old as a rule (rather than the 3 years at which they're typically released). Speaking of which, it's worth mentioning the web site Cellar Tracker which, among other things, is a repository of user-submitted ratings for tons of wines tasted over time to give people a feel for when specific wines are at their prime.

If you're interested in trying this wine, the good folks at The Wine House in Holliston, MA have a couple of cases still available as of this writing. Give them a call if you're in the area, or seek this one out somewhere near you and let me know what you think.

Question of the Day: Have you ever had a wine "turnaround" on you like this? Either over time or one that similarly surprised you in a good way?

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