We don’t often have a chance to drink wine that has been cellar-aged, mainly because we drink all the wine we buy within a few years. So when my sister-in-law offered us her red wine collection as a consequence of their moving across the country, we were only too happy to take it off their hands! The selection includes California wines collected during visits to Napa and Sonoma in the early 2000s. Since her wine of choice is chardonnay, the reds have been peacefully aging in her wine room all these years.
The wine we’re tasting from their collection is a 1998 Rombauer Merlot from Napa Valley, California. You’ll find that more current vintages of merlot from Rombauer come from Carneros. The sediment on the side of the bottle is a bit disconcerting, so we decide to pour it through a paper coffee filter into a decanter. Pouring very slowly, much of the sediment remains in the bottle and the bit that escapes is trapped in the filter. The wine in the decanter is basically sediment-free.
While not a hard-and-fast rule, the recommended “drink by” date of this 1998 vintage is 2008, so we’re about seven years late to the party. The age of this wine can be noted by the color. The deep crimson typical of a young merlot has evolved into a more brick-red with a rim of orange. Although we haven’t tasted a younger Rombauer Merlot for comparison, the wine’s overall personality seems subdued. Aromas of plum waft gently in the glass. The palate is earthy and muted, without any individual fruit, spice, or barrel flavors asserting themselves. This aged merlot sings in a delicate sotto voce in contrast to our usual bold cabernet sauvignons that revel in belting out their tune.
The Rombauer Merlot may have been a wee bit past its prime but definitely drinkable. The 1998 vintage gave us the opportunity to see how a solid, mid-priced Napa merlot weathers 17 years of aging.