Adventures in my wine cellar, California cab edition

Anyone who has even a small wine collection has probably neglected a few bottles until they are past their prime. As the collection gets larger, the number of forgotten bottles often does, too.

This has developed into a problem at my house. Before I started writing about wine, I was something of a disorganized collector. Many of the bottles were acquired willy-nilly, because I was new to the game. I’d hit a bunch of tasting rooms (tasting was actually free or just a couple of bucks in those days), and when I found something I liked, I’d buy a bottle or two. There was nothing systematic about it. I stashed my newly acquired treasures in a refrigerated wine cabinet. I kept a hand-written inventory, but I never developed any sort of system for rotating my stock of random bottles.

Once I started writing about wine, I had to taste a lot of current releases, and my wine collection was mostly ignored. But I’ve recently renewed my commitment to trying those older bottles on a regular basis and sharing them with interested friends. And with the approach of National Drink Wine Day on Feb. 18, I thought I’d tell you about some of the pleasant discoveries. Since this will be an ongoing adventure, I’ll share it with you once a month or so.

In the past several months, I’ve delved into California cabernet from the early 1980s through the early ‘90s. In general, I’ve found these vintages to be surprisingly age-worthy. When I bought them, I certainly wasn’t planning to keep them for 30 years or more. One of the best was a 1981 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, which I opened one night when I was on my own for dinner. It showed some age, of course, but it was still quite fresh and alive – thoroughly enjoyable with a steak. The wine, by the way, was 12.8 percent alcohol, and it still had the price tag: $15.53. (If it was purchased in, say, 1984, that works out to about $36 in today’s dollars. The current-release estate cab is $55.)

More recently, I opened a pair of Geyser Peak Reserve Alexandre cab-based red blends from 1990 and 1991, both of which were still delicious, if a little sediment-laden. We shared one of the wines with a neighbor who has limited experience with aged wines. He had a lot of questions about what he was tasting, and it was refreshing to see the wine through his perceptions.

This week, I picked out a 1986 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to try. Another great discovery. It was still very fresh, with lively red fruit, notes of dried herb and soy sauce and polished tannins. The wine was relatively high in alcohol for its day, at 13.5 percent. In the photo, note the price tag on the bottle: $13.99, or about $28 in today’s dollars. (The current cab, made from estate-grown fruit, costs $55; the ’86 was made from purchased grapes.)

If you decide to dive into your cellar, remember that not all older wines will have aged so well. (A few of mine certainly haven’t.) So be sure to have another bottle on standby.