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The Wine Collector

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I don't suppose I started out to become a wine "collector." Long ago I had a fascination with Bordeaux. It wasn't simply the taste of good Bordeaux, though I certainly found that aspect the most appealing, and it certainly wasn't the price.

What drew me in and kept me coming back for more these 40-plus years, besides the notion that I was dinking some of the finest wine on the planet, was the idea that each bottle was living history. It was important, then, that Bordeaux had the unique ability to improve with age in the bottle, often over a period of decades.

Not all wines age gracefully, and not all wines are meant to age when the winemaker puts them in the bottle. Over the years I have expanded my horizons to include Burgundy, some California cabernets, Barolo and Barbaresco, and an array of Italian reds from Tuscany in my personal wine stash. With so many excellent wines to choose from, eventually the living room, the den, the hallways, even some closet space I could desperately use for other stuff, began to fill up with wine.

So I was both curious and slightly depressed when I recently encountered a number of fairly savvy wine folk who scoffed at the concept of cellaring wines to give them extended bottle age, on the theory that older wines are better. Appreciating older wines is an "acquired" taste, I was told in what I took to be a lecturing tone. Fruit, it was said, is a far more appealing flavor than leather.

While I would agree with that analysis, I would say that the crowd that enjoys popping the "now" wine and drinking it well before I would consider it to be the wine's optimum moment in time is missing something that is very special. And that would be a good wine that has found its voice, so to speak, after aging out the strong tannins and firm acidity of its youth.

Wines that are made to be drunk today often fade and lose their verve after a few years in the bottle. If you've ever hung on to a wine too long before drinking it, you certainly know the disappointment of an over-the-hill wine.

My quarrel with those who dismiss the beauty of well-aged wines is that they overlook the fact that there is a point in time when the tannins have softened, complex secondary aromas are emerging and there is still plenty of fresh fruit to satisfy anyone who would miss that aspect of the tasting experience.

The trick is in knowing when to open the bottle, and that takes a bit of practice. And I suppose that's why some folks, such as me, end up being collectors. I buy several bottles of the same wine from the same vintage and taste them over a number of years, noting the evolution, especially whether it is positive or negative. When I come across a wine that is obviously fading and in decline, I make sure all of it is consumed and enjoyed before it is too far gone.

After enough time passes, anyone who makes notes and pays attention will come to know which wines age well and for how long.

I am currently drinking Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet and Grgich Hills Cabernet from the 1990s. These wines are gorgeous at this moment in time, although I should add the caveat that they have been cellared in ideal conditions at 59 F since the day I purchased them. I can say the same for the 1998 Gaja Sperss, one of the top red wines from Italy's Piedmont district and any number of my classified-growth Bordeaux from the same period.

Cellaring wine for extended periods may not be for everyone, and even I realize that the day will come when I've reached an age when wines that require an additional 15 or 20 years in the cellar are of no interest.

Until then, the sheer joy of tasting living history trumps the pleasure of an abundance of fruit in a youthful wine. This is the experience every wine "collector" lives for.

BEST VALUE

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Pine Ridge 2010 "Forefront" Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo-Santa Barbara County-Sonoma County ($24) — Were California pinots to be ranked according to the Burgundian model, Pine's Ridge's Forefront would fit nicely into the "villages" category. The 2010 Forefront is firmly structured, with just a bit of bite on the back end, and it shows complex aromas of blackberry, plum and black cherry, hints of spice and a pleasing earthiness. Good to drink now, but should improve in the bottle over the next two to four years. Rating: 88.

TASTING NOTES

Merry Edwards 2009 Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane, Russian River Valley ($60) - If one wine could be called Merry Edwards' signature triumph, it would be her Olivet Lane Pinot Noir, and the 2009 vintage is one of her finest. It begins with the beautifully perfumed nose, which pulls your mind into the wine with seductive hints of floral, spice and mocha. On the palate the wine is supple and pure, showing layers of black cherry and dark raspberry fruit, with extraordinary persistence of flavor. Drink it now, or anytime over the next eight to 12 years. Rating: 97.

Merry Edwards 2009 Pinot Noir, Georganne, Russian River Valley ($54) - This is a new vineyard for Merry Edwards, one with obviously tremendous potential. Her first effort, the 2009 Georganne, is a muscular, spicy wine that will need a year or two more in the bottle to round out and show its best. The flavors are a complex array of red and black fruits, and there is a hint of forest floor that many will find appealing. Rating: 92.

Emiliana 2009 "Coyam," Colchagua Valley, Chile ($34) - While organic wines don't have much of a track record of accomplishment, the picture is beginning to change. Emiliana is among the world leaders in organic wines, and that's not to damn them with faint praise. The Emiliana wines certainly have set the bar high for organic vino, in Chile and the rest of the world, too. It's top wine. Coyam is an unusual blend of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes — syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Mourvedre, Carmenere, just to name a few — and the combination works. The 2009 Coyam is a juicy, full-bodied wine that exhibits fresh red and black fruit aromas, firm acidity and rounded, smooth tannins. Rating: 91.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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