Clos Du Val Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

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Clos Du Val Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Clos Du Val Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

I would like to wish all my readers Happy 4th of July, that is Independence Day!  While I am situated in Australia, I am and will always remain an American.  I don’t know if I’ll be moving back home while there is so much left of the world to explore, but it’s nice to visit, particularly on holidays not celebrated so much internationally, such as today and Thanksgiving (which yes, I know, is celebrated in Canada, though not on the same day).  And since getting back to the USA this year is somewhat inconvenient, I’m celebrating my pursuit of Happiness by opening a bottle of Clos Du Val Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

It is difficult to source a good range of wine from the USA in Australia.  A few producers are imported, but it’s just the tiniest fraction of what’s available in California.  Of the half-dozen wines from the USA that I’ve covered, I’ve only bought two here – the other four I either picked up in London or in California.  I can understand why – there’s no shortage of New World style wines produced locally, and available with a different rate of tax so they’re much more affordable.  Still, while I love Australian wines, I also like having choices.

In this case, I did have some choices, as I had this bottle delivered to the hotel of an Australian friend who was visiting California, and he kindly brought it back for me.  I picked it because I had just been reading up on the Judgement of Paris and wanted a wine from one of the producers who represented California.  I will save a fuller description of that historic event for some other time, but just quickly it was a tasting in Paris organized by then young British wine merchant Steven Spurrier (now a hugely respected gentleman of the wine trade) which pitted some top wines of California against their red Bordeaux and white Burgundy counterparts.  Tasted blind by French judges, the top red was Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and the top white Chateau Montelena, both of California.  Clos Du Val was one of the Californian reds with its very first vintage, and this is the successor to the wine tasted then, some 32 vintages later.

Given its role in establishing California on the world stage as being capable of producing fine wines to compete with the best of France, it’s somewhat ironic that Clos Du Val was founded by two Frenchmen, John Goelet and Bernard Portet.  They set about to produce top quality wine in the style of Bordeaux and spent two years searching for suitable terrior. Portlet concluded that what would become the Stags Leap AVA was just the place, and in 1972 Goelet bought 150 acres and the two of them established the winery.  Shortly thereafter they expanded to include vineyards in nearby, though much cooler, Los Carneros for the production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Many vintages and awards later, they produce two lines of varietal wine at different price points, a collection of smaller volume Winemaker’s Signature wines, as well as this, their flagship.

I wrote a bit about the Stags Leap District when I covered Stags’ Leap so I won’t go into any more detail than that, except to point out that the Stags’ Leap wine was classified from the greater Napa Valley, meaning not enough of the fruit in the wine came from the District itself, while this wine is in fact classified from Stags Leap District AVA.  Likewise, we’ve seen these grape varieties before.  And as with the two other Cabernet Sauvignon based wines from California, this is also a blend, with 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot.

As to this wine itself, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a deep ruby colour, beginning to transition to blood red.  It has quick, thin legs with some colour in them.  On the nose, it’s clean with medium plus intensity, a developing character with notes of sweet spice, both fresh and dried black fruits, plums and currants, plus a bit of gingerbread.  On the palate it’s dry, with notes of cocoa powder, sweet spice, dried blackcurrant, and red meat. It has medium plus acidity, medium plus very fine, velvety tannins, medium plus body, medium alcohol, a medium plus flavour intensity, and medium plus length with a cranberry finish.

While all men are created equal, such is not the case for wines.  This wine is excellent – a delicious, well balanced, strong wine, but not overpowering. There’s a great depth of flavour, and not a note out of place.  It’s also very fresh for a wine almost 8 years old.  It has good typicity, well almost – I wish every California Cabernet tasted like this, and I wish I didn’t have to bring them into Australia personally.

Moss Wood Vineyards Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

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Moss Wood Vineyards Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Moss Wood Vineyards Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

I had a call from Moss Wood Vineyards last week.  I thought they might be asking me to review some wines from Western Australia, as I’ve been woefully negligent, but it turns out they were looking to sell me a case or two of a recent vintage.  I wanted to buy some, but I need to sort out my cellar before I buy anything in six or twelve bottle quantities, so I had to say thank you but no.  However, I greatly enjoy their wines and have a magnum of their wine that I’m sure will be the high point of a party at some point soon.  So a day later, I ended up buying this bottle, the Moss Wood Vineyards Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, and I hope in some small way it will make up for not buying a case of the 2009 over the phone.

It’s past due that I write about something from Western Australia.  There’s no shortage of good wines, and in fact WA (as we tend to call it here) punches significantly above its weight in terms of international awards relative to the other states.  I think it’s largely down to my quest for interesting new varietals hasn’t really taken me to WA as the alternative grape wines there are don’t seem to make it to South Australia.  But rather than focus on why I haven’t been writing about WA, how about I start writing.

Western Australia is the biggest state in terms of landmass and fourth in population, but it has less than 5% of the grape crush.  Despite that, it grabbed almost 15% of the awards for Australia at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards.  So while as with all of Australia, there’s a range of quality levels across producers, WA is certainly doing well in quality.

Western Australia at present has nine wine regions, the best known of which is the home of our wine today, Margaret River.  It’s roughly 250km south of Perth just in from the coast in the southwestern corner of Australia.  It’s a temperate Mediterranean climate with maritime influences from the Indian and Southern Oceans.  Winters are wet but mild, summers warm and dry. The geography is gently hilly, and the soils are generally decomposed granite gravel loams with little organic matter.  Grapes were first planted in any quantity in 1967, and while the region is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Semillon is more widely planted than either.  There are also significant areas of Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Merlot vines.

I’ve managed to taste eight wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, three of them straight varietals, without saying much meaningful about the grape, even to cover the basics, so I’ll do that now, though I feel a bit silly doing so given that it’s the most famous grape in the world.  It is a dark, thick-skinned grape with an extremely high pip to pulp ratio.  It ripens late, and can give high yields if not carefully managed.  The thick skin provides good resistance to most diseases, though it is still vulnerable to powdery mildew.  Its home is generally considered to be the Left Bank in Bordeaux, though as my tasting history shows, it can be found throughout the world.  It is thought to prefer gravel-based soils, which can both provide additional heat required for full ripeness and can help to limit yields.  It can produce wines of great concentration, which can stand up to both oak and in some cases decades of ageing.  In Bordeaux, as well as many places making wine in that style, it’s often blended with some combination of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

I had the pleasure of visiting Moss Wood on a trip to Margaret River a few years ago.  They have no cellar door, but my wife was invited there on business and I got to tag along.  (Yet another reason it’s better I maintain my secret identity.)  It was not a large operation, though like many Margaret River producers, their small volume is offset by their high quality.  I was reading through their history and for some reason it sounded extremely familiar, and as it turns out, for good reason.  It was founded by Bill and Sandra Pannell in the late 1960s as the second winery in Margaret River.  The Pannell name is familiar because one of their sons, Stephen Pannell, led a tasting I attended back in April.

Moss Wood operates two vineyards, Moss Wood and Ribbon Vale, just over 18HA in total, and from which they produce different labels.  They’re both unirrigated, hand pruned and hand picked, as are the handful of other local vineyards from whom Moss Wood source fruit.  Plantings include Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, with tiny amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  In addition to the Moss Wood and Ribbon Vale labels, they also produce a line called Amy’s Wines and a Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir that they travel to Victoria to make.  And while this wine says Cabernet Sauvignon on the front label, it also contains Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with an opaque core, ruby rim, and quick, thin legs.  The nose is clean, with medium plus intensity, a developing character, and perfumed, with lots of red berries, but not so much the cassis one might expect.  It’s more soft skinned fruit, some toasty oak, and sweet spice (cinnamon and cloves).  It’s much more a Cabernet Sauvignon on the palate, with rich chocolate, cranberry, black currant, pencil shavings, and a hint of ash.  It’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium soft tannins, medium plus flavour intensity, and a long length with pencil shavings and chocolate finish.

This is a very good wine – full of flavour and complexity, and very fresh at four years old.  The tannins area already softening, so it’s fine to drink it now, but the acidity is strong enough that I’m sure it will reward those with the patience to wait a decade.

Dominus Estate Napa Valley Napanook Vineyard 1996

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Dominus Estate Napa Valley Napanook Vineyard 1996

Dominus Estate Napa Valley Napanook Vineyard 1996

It’s Valentine’s Day which calls for something special. In this case, it’s a bottle I’ve been holding on to for a while and it’s time to crack it open. This bottle of Dominus Estate Napa Valley Napanook Vineyard 1996 should be just about ready to drink.

I should write about Napa Valley AVA and Yountville, I should write about the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet Franc, the Petit Verdot, and the Merlot, I should stick to my region, grape, producer, wine format, but this is Dominus, and that’s much more interesting right now. If I’m good, I’ll go back and put in a meaningful paragraph or two for each, but really, it’s Dominus (and it’s Valentine’s Day, so I have things I need to be doing).

Dominus Estate is quite the winery, with a long history and an impressive reputation. The vineyards date to 1836, which for an American vineyard, especially in California, is exceedingly old. In 1982 Christian Moueix entered into a partnership to develop the site, which had provided premium grapes for some of Napa’s iconic wines throughout much of the 20th century, and then in 1995 he took sole ownership of the property. Moueix’s family has been famous in the French wine trade for decades, and in addition to Dominus Estates, he manages Château Pétrus which Jancis Robinson describes as the most famous wine of Pomerol and the most expensive of Bordeaux.

So if you were in charge of Château Pétrus and had just taken ownership of an excellent winery in Napa, what would you do? Build a winery, right? And who would you get to design it? How about Herzog and de Meuron, the Swiss architects who went on to design the new Tate Modern in what had been the Bankside Power Station in London (which is possibly my favourite building in the world). More recently they designed the Beijing National Stadium, better known as The Bird’s Nest. The winery is pretty amazing – it’s worth checking out some pictures if you haven’t seen it before.

Dominus Estate makes two wines, Dominus which is has produced since 1983 and a second wine, Napanook, which was first released in 1996. The label on Dominus has been pretty standard since 1991, and featured the words “Napanook Vineyard” diagonally from the bottom left to the upper right through to 1996, the vintage year of this bottle. In 1996, there was some confusion between the premier label, Dominus, with “Napanook Vineyard” across the label, and the second wine, Napanook. As a result, the following year that confusing text was changed to “Estate Bottled”.

This wine is a treasure. It’s a deep garnet in the glass, and when I decanted it there was very little sediment, even though the bottle had been stood up for a few days. The nose is fairly intense with lots of tobacco and green herbs as well as some stewed currants. The palate is very rich – more tobacco, but also red meat, rich spice, and concentrated black fruit. The tannins are smooth and fully integrated and there is an underlying zest of acidity that keeps the wine feeling fresh despite the nearly 14 years in bottle. This wine was perfect with slow cooked beef cheeks, and didn’t let up when we were on to dark chocolate ganache bars with ice cream.

Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006

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Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006

Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006

So just today I reread all the material in the Red Book and I still have quite a ways to go before I’m ready for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam this time next week.  I’m not quite scared to death, but it’s certainly daunting.  Fortunately, I have the entire week, or almost all of it, to just study, study, study.

That’s what I did today, but tonight I’m actually working through questions from past exams.  I picked a question at random and tried to come up with a decent answer, within a 30 minute time period.  I let myself dig through my book, which unfortunately I won’t be able to do next week.  I think I’ll do this every day, perhaps a few questions per day, from now until the exam.  Tonight it’s just one, and a tasting note from dinner.  First, the question.

Describe how the factors in the vineyard and winery determine the style and quality of Syrah or Shiraz dominated wines from Northern Rhône, Barossa and one other country.

The Northern Rhône has a continental climate, heavily influenced by the Mistral, a northern wind runs through the region. The vineyards of the Northern Rhône are often terraced and/or on steep slopes, inhibiting mechanization. Vines are often individually staked bushes, with little if any mechanization and no irrigation. Some natural amphitheaters create sun traps with ideal aspect for ripening. The difficult condition are such that it is only worthwhile to grow grapes if a premium can be charged for the wine.

In the winery Syrah is sometimes co-fermented with Viognier, Marsanne or Rousanne, sometimes varietal. The ferments are in stainless, concrete or old wood, and better quality wines are oaked for up to three years, exclusively in French oak.

While there is certainly a range of quality of Syrah dominated wines, the emphasis is on higher quality, full bodied wines with great potential for ageing. Some lesser quality and lighter wines are made in Crozes-Hermitage, but the region is most often thought of for higher quality, full wines.

The Barossa Valley has a warm Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and a long growing season. The vineyards are typically flat and vines are trained on wires for easy mechanization. As needed, they can and typically are irrigated. However, there are some very high quality, low yielding bush vines of Shiraz that are in excess of 100 years old, though they are in the minority.

In the winery, Shiraz is sometimes varietal, though often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes with Grenache and Mouvedre. It is typically oaked, though it can be French, American or Hungarian, and it may take the form of staves or chips.

Barossa Shiraz is produced in a wide range of quality, from the hugely mass produced Jacob’s Creek entry level and Wolf Blass Red Label to the high end of Penfolds RWT or boutique Grennock Creek. The style generally is more fruit forward and higher in alcohol than the Northern Rhône, as fruit is riper when picked. Oak use is generally more noticeable.

Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, in particular Gimlett Gravels, is also known as an area of Syrah production, though only as a relative newcomer. The soil is deep shingle and has excellent drainage.

In the winery, Syrah is typically a straight varietal, and winery methods are very modern with no shorage of new French oak. The wine style is aiming for Old World elegance, and the result is somewhere between your typical Northern Rhône and Barossa Syrah/Shiraz, in quality, price and style.

Looking at the answer, I’m not thrilled.  I think I know my way around the Northern Rhône and Barossa, but I really had to think to figure out a third country/region.  I’ve been to Hawkes Bay and I’ve had the nice Craggy Range Syrah, but I’ve also had Syrah from South Africa and Chile, but I would have been able to write even less about Syrah from either of those two countries.  I could have gone with Washington State, since John Duval is making Syrah there, but that’s the only detail I have and I’ve not tasted the wine.  Even digging through the book didn’t help much, in that Syrah just isn’t much of a thing outside the Rhône and Australia.  Unfortunately they didn’t give me the option of talking about how people are doing cool climate Shiraz in the Adelaide Hills at places like Shaw + Smith.  Oh well, I think that’s one of those questions where I’d need to get my points in the first two parts because the third one wasn’t going to work as well for me.

Right, so I have some wine in front of me and I think I should write about it and go to sleep so I’m rested and ready for more study tomorrow.  It’s the Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006.  So the basics – France, Bordeaux, Right Bank, Pomerol.  Mostly Merlot, though apparently with 20% Cabernet Franc.  It’s five years old, which for some Bordeaux wines would mean it’s still very young, though this one is showing significant signs of maturity.  It’s gone garnet in the glass, though still deep in colour, and there are loads of secondary aromas and flavours.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium-plus garnet colour, slow thin legs.

Nose

Clean, medium intensity, developing with notes of red currant, plum, sweet spice, chocolate and some tobacco.

Palate

Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium-plus flavour intensity, medium alcohol, medium body, with notes of cranberry, tobacco, sweet spice, chocolate, and plums.  Medium-plus length with dark chocolate finish.

Conclusions

This is a good quality wine.  It has strong acidity and flavour intensity, though not quite enough tannins to have perfect balance.  It’s showing nice complexity as far as retaining some fruit but also having secondary flavours, though it does show signs of premature ageing.  The intensity is good, as is the length.  If there were stronger tannins, I would push this up to a very good, but I think the ageing it’s showing now suggests that it will start to fade sooner rather than later.  Drink now if you have some.

Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008

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Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008

Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008

Tonight we opened up a bottle of wine we had sent to back from our most recent trip to France, Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008. It was not a château we visited, but rather a recommendation from a manager in a wine shop as we put together a mixed case that would give us a range of wines to cover our Bourdeaux studies.

So first, Pomerol. It’s in Bordeaux, which of course is in France, and this is not the first wine I’ve covered from that general area. I tasted a wine from Saint-Julien, Connétable de Talbot 2008 a couple of weeks back. Saint-Julien as I said is in the Left Bank, and as such a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend. Pomerol, on the other hand, is on the other bank, the Right Bank. It is an area where Merlot dominates blends, with Cabernet Franc being a junior partner, and other varieties often not being present at all. Pomerol has no formal classification system, unlike the long established 1855 classification on the Left Bank. However, some wineries there has such well established reputations that they are valued at least as highly as first growths, among them Château Pétrus and Château Le Pin.

This wine is the second wine from Château Rouget, as the wine two weeks ago was from Château Talbot, but I didn’t really explain what a second wine was. In Bordeaux, as well as some other places, a château will have their grand vin which will carry their name. So if you speak of the wine Château Margaux, no one would ever ask “which one?” in exactly the opposite way that if you were to speak of Penfolds, you would need to be more specific as they produce many wines and none of them is an eponymously named flagship. (Penfolds flagship wine is Grange, for the record.) However, if you are a grand château you will have a large number of wines made every vintage that may go into your blend and from year to year they might vary in quality. Some young vines may not produce up to the high standards of your château’s grand vin. Or perhaps the vintage was tragic with not enough ripeness. For a number of reasons, many châteaux have found it useful to produce a second wine – one that is clearly from their château but which has a reputation separate from their grand vin. The amount produced will vary from year to year, and in particularly challenging years, some châteaux may not produce a grand vin at all. Second wines will typically have their own name to set them apart from the grand vin, and can often represent an opportunity to get a sense of a great château at a fraction of the cost of their grand vin. So while the best fruit/wines will go into the grand vins, and they will in turn receive the best treatment as far as winemaking and oak, second wines are still identified with a château and so are more second sons than orphans.

I can’t say very much about Château Rouget in particular, other than that their plantings are 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, though the exact blend in this vintage of their second wine is not clear. Their website features Michel Rolland prominently, but he is worth at least a posting all on his own. Curiously, on the entry for Château Rouget, Wikipedia suggests that their second wine is known as Clocher de Rouget, but on their entry for Second wine they name it as Vieux Château des Templiers, neither of which match the bottle in front of me. Just to be clear, I am but a student of wine, and so anyone trying to rely on this blog for accurate data will be disappointed from time to time. Even so, I’m annoyed I can’t pin this down.

Regardless of whatever it actually is (and I will keep researching), it’s very nice. It’s young and while the fruit is strong and forward, I would not call it fruity. It has a certain spiciness that’s very pleasant, and the alcohol is warming in a way that’s quite comforting on a cool evening.

Appearance

Clear and bright, opaque purple with only the smallest water rim. Quick thick legs.

Nose

Clean, developing, and medium-plus intensity of black fruit (plums, cherry, currants) and sweet spice, along with hints of tobacco.

Palate

Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus fine tannins, medium-plus alcohol, medium body, medium-plus flavour intensity, with notes of plum, black cherries, cranberry, blackberry, and a bit of meat/blood. Medium-plus length with a spicy finish.

Conclusions

This is a very good quality wine – intense in flavour, and starting to develop complexity of flavours. It is well balanced in its weightiness, with only the body and acidity being slightly less than they could be. The length is nice, particularly with the spice on the finish. While I’m certainly enjoying this wine now, I think it is still very young and will benefit from another 5 years of cellaring during which time I would expect more tobacco and perhaps some chocolate to emerge.

Connétable de Talbot Saint-Julien 2008

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Connétable de Talbot Saint-Julien 2008

Connétable de Talbot Saint-Julien 2008

I put the rest of the European (that is, non-French as I did them yesterday) wine terms to understand/remember into a spreadsheet though I had planned on doing the Americas and Rest of World as well.  Alas, my time management skills are not especially focused at the moment, but they’re certainly better than they were last week.  I’m hoping for that to continue to improve between now and the exam.

I did spend some small amount of time doing a few things for this blog with the notion that it’s almost work.  Obviously, that’s not really true, and if at the end of six weeks I have a decent blog but fail my exam, it won’t be a reasonable outcome.

Tonight’s wine was the Connétable de Talbot  Saint-Julien 2008.  I’ve driven through Saint- Julien, I have no first hand experience with Château Talbot.  While I have a great deal of respect for Bordeaux as a region and brand, I don’t pretend to know much about it.  Even so, there are some things that I clearly need to demonstrate as far as knowledge.

First off, Château Talbot is in Bordeaux, which is in the southwest of France just in from the Atlantic coast.  In particular, it is in the commune of Saint-Julien, an AOC in the Médoc on what is known as the Left Bank.  The Chateau was rated as one of the ten Fourth Growth in the Classification of 1855.  It produces its grand vin, this Connétable de Talbot, and a white called Caillou Blanc.  As a Saint-Julien, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot rounding out the blend.  The difference between this and the main wine is almost certainly fruit selection and oak treatment, with this wine receiving only 20% new oak.

First, let me start with what I would expect from a relatively young Bordeaux, because I certainly can be expected to have a generic tasting note in mind.  I would expect deep colour, concentrated, tart fruit, high acidity, a great deal of extraction, and tannins that need a few years to soften.  That note would not fit particularly well with the wine in front of me.  The colour is not overly deep, though you would not confuse it for a Pinot Noir.  The fruit is concentrated, and there is a zest to the acidity that is very refreshing.  However, it’s not overly extracted and is very approachable.  It’s a very good wine, and well suited for someone who is more used to New World styles but looking to try Bordeaux.  Here’s how it looks, smells and tasted in the glass.

Appearance

Clear and bright, with a medium ruby colour.  It leave thick, slow legs in the glass when swirled.

Nose

Clean and developing with a medium plus intensity.  There are notes of cranberry, pomegranate, fresh herbs, and sweet spice, along with a little pencil lead.

Palate

Dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium-plus body, medium-plus flavour intensity, and medium fine tannins.  The flavours are of tart red fruit – cranberry, pomegranate, currant – along with some red meat and developing notes of blood and iodine along with a hint of tobacco.  The finish is cranberry with a long length.

Conclusion

This is very good quality wine – the flavours and acidity were both medium-plus which gave them balanced intensity.  Very crisp.  The length was very long, with the medium-plus carrying the cranberry flavour well after the wine was swallowed.

This is clearly an Old World wine, with restrained but very tart fruit, which will work well with developed characteristics which can be expected to emerge over the next few years.  Even so, it’s very approachable, with the acidity being zingy instead of piercing and the tannins being softer than I would have expected.    The acid and Cabernet put it in Bordeaux on the Left Bank.  This wine sells for roughly $25.00 and is good value at that price.

Readiness to drink – fine now though will improve over the next five years.  There are only hints at secondary characters that I think will round out the drinking experience.  The tannins are soft enough to enjoy now, but I think some patience will be rewarded.