From the earliest days at Lenz, we adopted a practice of holding back a small amount of the best wines from certain vintages. For example, after 1993, which was a wonderful vintage for reds, when our stocks of Old Vines Merlot and Cabernet from that year were shrinking fast, we withheld about 50 cases of each and moved on to the next vintage. Around the same time, we also adopted the practice of bottling a fraction of our best reds in magnum and occasionally double-magnum sizes.
The idea was to reach the point where we would have an extensive library of older, aging wines. Well, we have reached that point. As of today, we have a mix of reds, and even certain whites, in different formats (i.e. bottle sizes) going back to 1993.
We offer some these wines as part of our premium tasting flights, both to enjoy and to give Lenz customers a chance to gauge how our wines will improve with age. Based on our own tasting of these library wines, our Old Vines reds peak at between 15 and 20 years.
Unusually, among US wineries, we have deliberately built a deep library of red wines from our best vintages. That is to say, we take about 50 cases of each Old Vines red wine and set it aside in our cellar, to be released after perhaps 8-10 years. And, in certain vintages, we also bottle a similar amount of these wines in magnums (double-bottles) and set those aside for later release.
Why do we do this? We believe that most good wines are drunk when too young. It’s true that wines in this modern age do not absolutely require extended aging to make them palatable. But most very good red wines are probably consumed 10-15 years before their peak. And so basically, we store this wine so that our customers won’t drink it too young!
We recently decided it was finally time to make some of these library magnum red wines (shown below) available to our Subscribers and to the general public. As a prelude to their release, several of us sat down to taste the following magnums:
Five Old Vines Merlots from 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002 & 2007
Three Cabernet Sauvignons from 1997, 2002 & 2007
The headline of this tasting is: They were all quite simply delicious.
The drill-down is that there was amazing consistency across the five merlots; despite the 11-year span, the wines showed an incredible family resemblance. The seven tasters all agreed on this consistency and then had fun trying to call out the subtle differences across the vintages.
What was consistent?
For the merlots: all were fruit-rich, full-bodied and packed with flavor. Repeating flavor notes were basically these: dark plums, red raspberries, occasional black cherry, a little boysenberry and bramble. They also had plenty of rich, soft, well-integrated tannins. Each one offered a delicious mouthful and a long, long finish. Aromas included traces of mint, cedar, cardamom, leather, tree root (huh??),
For the cabernets: basically the same as the merlots, except the specific flavors were different, with the following mentioned by most tasters: berries, occasional cherry, cassis (blackcurrant) and pomegranate. Aromas included cedar and tobacco (‘vintage cigar box’), violets, red licorice, Madagascar vanilla (there’s always a show-off).
And what varied? Basically, the color was a little darker here, a trace lighter there; the aromas were more available or took a little while to emerge; the sense among the tasters of ‘ready now’ vs. ‘will benefit from another year or two’.
After we had tasted the wines, we recalled that several of them had been reviewed in Robert Parker’s ‘Wine Advocate’ which is widely regarded as the leading authority on fine wines. See what they had to say, along with our own thoughts, in our tasting notes: