I recently pulled some reasonably old wines from Cline Family Cellars out of the dark corners of the wine cellar and opened them for a taste. The results were surprisingly strong. I say surprisingly, because my personal experience with aging mid-level California wines has been decidedly mixed.
I probably should not be surprised, though. I have been enjoying Cline Family wines since the late 80’s and always found them to be a notch better than other wines at their price points. For those who are unfamiliar with the brand, Cline Family Cellars was started in 1982 in Oakley California by Fred Cline. The early vintages came from original plantings of Mourvèdre, Zinfandel and Carignane dating back to 1880. In 1989, Cline purchased a 350-acre horse farm in Carneros and relocated the winery to Sonoma County. Cline chose Rhone varietals as their focus, planting Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. As the years past, so did further expansion, both in acreage in Sonoma and in breadth of varietals, adding Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Cline Family Cellars is exactly that, a family-owned operation. As their website states, the winery is “built on a passion for winemaking and rooted in respect for the land.” As such, the winery practices sustainable farming at all their sites, achieving Certified status in Sonoma County as well as the state of California. An abiding philosophy at Cline is stewardship of the land, something that is echoed in the quality of their wines.
The same attention to sustainable farming is applied to wine making, where a combination of classic techniques is combined with modern technologies to produce authentic and expressive wines that allow the quality and character of the fruit, and vineyards to speak through the wine.
The wines in question predate much of what is on the web site, so it is hard for me to say what, if any influence the current team had on their production. However, it is safe to say that the wines showed so well after nearly 20 years in the cellar because of the basic philosophies of “passion” and “respect.” The foundation upon which Fred Cline built his winery shows in the longevity if these bottles.
2003 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel
Bold nose, with cherry, blackberry and red current hints. Surprisingly powerful for a wine of this age. Well balanced, with moderate acid and well-integrated tannin. Silky. Burnished on the finish. Raisins, exotic spices and dried fruit on the finish. At peak. Very impressive.
2001 Cline Ancient Vines Mourvèdre
Lively nose with blackberry, cherry jam notes and hints of allspice. Jammy, with elegant structure and very well-integrated tannin. At peak, but with a seemingly tireless finish… suggesting a long duration at peak! Another stellar offering!
2001 Cline Small Berries Mourvèdre
Spectacular fruit on the nose, bright and intense. Well-balanced with finesse and elegance and an endless, layered finish. Black cherry, menthol and eucalyptus in the palate with dried currant, raisin and tar on the aftertaste. Remarkable!