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From the Editor: A Case for Old Vines

This summer, visiting wineries in Napa Valley for our Top 100 reporting, I stopped in to see Cathy Corison. She had opened some older bottles of her Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon the day before. The vines that produced these wines were just outside, west of the winery, long established in the benchland of the Mayacamas in St. Helena.

Cathy Corison at Kronos Vineyards in St. Helena. Cathy Corison at Kronos Vineyards in St. Helena.

As I tasted through the vintages, it occurred to me how differently old-vine cabernet matures. Young-vine Napa Valley cabernet can be exuberantly fruity and delicious; some of it can age remarkably well. But there’s a level of complexity that Kronos and other old-vine wines offer that sets them apart. Before stopping in to see Corison, I’d been tasting cabernet at Diamond Creek. Those wines are quite different from Kronos, yet they share an old-vine component—in the case of Diamond Creek, only a few acres remain of the original 1968 planting. They also share the ineffable quality of being distinctly themselves.

Cabernet vines on Snipes Mountain, planted in 1962. Cabernet vines on Snipes Mountain, planted in 1962.
It set me wondering just how much old-vine cabernet sauvignon was left in Napa Valley, after the region’s latest bout with phylloxera, and why some old-vine parcels did survive. So, I asked David Darlington if he’d be interested in finding out. Four thousand words later, he handed in a thorough and thoughtful consideration of this vanishing asset and the people working to sustain it.

Patrick J. Comiskey did parallel research in Washington’s Columbia Valley, considering why so few old-vine cabernet vineyards have survived there—even as many growers and winemakers acknowledge their value.

Claudio Mariotto’s Tasting Shed, Near Tortona. Claudio Mariotto’s Tasting Shed, Near Tortona.
Meanwhile, Stephanie Johnson stopped off in the Colli Tortonesi to meet the eccentric group of producers behind the surge of a local white variety, timorasso, a wine that has caught the attention of Barolo growers. A number of folks from Alba are now investing in local vineyards, growing a white wine with the stamina to age.

You’ll find an assortment of timorassos to check out in our tasting notes, as well as a host of great cabernets, both from young vines and old.

We also include our annual house-by-house assessment of Champagne, and a page of the best sparklers for $25 or less, to start you on your holiday plans.

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This feature appears in the print edition of December 2019.
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