By Lorn Razzano: I just inherited quite a few cases of wine from a friend's cellar. How do I know if they are any good? What would be the value of these wines and how do I find out?

Time to answer the old mail bag. Here are a few answers to questions I have received over the last few weeks. Here we go.

I just inherited quite a few cases of wine from a friend's cellar. How do I know if they are any good? What would be the value of these wines and how do I find out?

Let me answer the "value" question first.

It is very difficult to place a monetary value on a bottle of wine from a cellar that might be an older offering. If the wine is older than 10 years of date listed on the label, there might not be a recent history of similar bottles on the market to know where to go with the price. Assuming that the wine was intended to age — that is, that the winemaker and winery released this wine with the intention of having one cellar it — we may have a chance of finding it in a catalogue or recent auction.

The truth of the matter is that most cellars are made up of wine that was never intended for long-term storage, but wines casually purchased to drink when the time was right. I have researched many cellars for insurance purposes only to find that the wines were of average to good quality when purchased and to have been kept far too long.

Value might also mean what someone is willing to offer you in dollars for the wines you inherited. What someone offers you and what the wine might actually be "worth" could be vastly different numbers. I will say that the secondary market of cellared wines is a very difficult area to understand and fluctuates greatly from vintage to vintage as well as from (obviously) estate to estate.

To answer the first part of the question: Taking the wines at face value — assuming that they are age worthy, from great estates and superb vintages — says nothing of the condition of the place where they were stored. It is one thing to find superbly crafted wines intended for the cellar, it is quite another consideration as to where the wine has been and what its history might be.

Years ago I saved a man quite a bit of grief by snooping around and discovering that a lot of wine (20 cases) that had gone on sale from a "private investor" had spent some time in a wooden shed pending the outcome of a divorce! It seems that the couple had settled on a neutral spot to store the wine while the forks and knives were divvied up between them. This shed stood behind a friend's house throughout the summer while the couple haggled the settlement issues. The idea was that the wines were kept "off limits" to either of them pending some sort of arbitrated decision.

I found out, without a shadow of a doubt, that the wine was, in fact, in the hot house shed and alerted the wine-buying community — which saved a bunch of headaches all around. If you can document the history of the wines, you will be on your way with the proviso that the wines were intended to age by the winery.

Why is Oregon considered a "Pinot Noir" state?

It's because of weather and soil, as well as very good winemaking and viticultural practices.

The history of Oregon Pinot Noir production really starts out with the great early vintages by David Lett in the Willamette Valley. His wines of the middle 1970s (and later) showed the world that good Pinot was being made here.

Pinot Noir is a fickle sister requiring endless care, both in the vineyard and in the winery. Few places on the globe have achieved as much success as the Oregon wineries. The other great success stories are the ancestral home of Pinot Noir (Burgundy, France), as well as in New Zealand and specific parts of California.

Well, there you have it! See you next week!