Our regular tasting group has not been so regular recently, but we did manage to get 6 of us together at my house for a tasting of Napa Cabernets a little while back. Susan cooked some nice veal and we had a good time tasting through some very fine wines. None of the wines were tasted blind, and all the Cabernets were decanted an hour or two before serving.
N.V. L. Aubry Fils Champagne Brut 1er Cru. This bottle disgorged in September 2013 features nice toasty aromas of ginger, blanched nuts, breadcrumbs, orange peel, pear and botanical herbs. In the mouth, it’s frothy and forthcoming, rather expansive and mouthcoating, with smooth edges and a creamy texture. It’s pleasantly plump, with toasty dark fruit and nut flavors. It could maybe benefit from a bit more cut, but it’s a real pleasant way to start the evening.
2012 François Chidaine Vouvray Sec Les Argiles. This is just extremely tight and tensile on the nose, with aromas of rock quarry, minerals, citrus oils and little wisps of St-Germaine elderflower liqueur that are wound up tight. It does grow a bit fleshier over the course of the evening and into the next night, but it’s still rather stony and rigid. In the mouth, it’s cool and acidic, with a chiseled tanginess to the tacky-textured flavors of lemon, wool, lanolin and minerals. The finish is decidedly dry and crisp, needing another 2-3 years to unwind, I’d say.
1991 Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve Napa Valley. This wine displays an absolutely fantastic Bordelais-styled bouquet full of tobacco leaf, bell pepper, cedar, topsoil, dried cherry, cranberry and mocha aromas that are delightfully old-fashioned and earthy, with a fine green streak that really works. In the mouth, it’s beautifully-rounded, pliant and engaging with its lovely flavors of sour cherry and red currant fruit, tart acidity and fine dusty earth tones. It’s in a perfect zone right now for my tastes, and really offers a rewarding and pleasing drink all around.
1992 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley. Although this doesn’t really unfold the way the Anderson’s Conn Valley does, it’s still impressively deep and concentrated on the nose, offering up dense aromas of menthol, bacon fat, cedar, black currant, tomato puree, baked cherry and brimstone. In the mouth, it feels plush and thick, with fairly low acidity but with pumped out flavors of black currant, black cherry and dark berries carried across a dense and pasty texture with a bit of tannin and structure still to be resolved fully, I’d say.
1992 Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve Napa Valley. This is a terrific Cabernet from start to finish, beginning with the beautifully-layered nose of fine leather, tobacco, dusty dirt road, dried cherries, mixed currants, and Baker’s chocolate aromas that just seem to get better and better all night. There’s a sense of perfect ripeness to the red currant and berry fruit, complemented nicely by touches of mocha and chocolate flavor accented by a hint of mint leaf. It has tremendously good cohesion, plenty of structure, a nice even weight, and a long tasty finish that puts a fine cap on a delicious drink.
1997 Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve Napa Valley. Compared to the 1992 that ended the previous flight, the 1997 Beringer puts forth a fruitier, more vibrant sort of bouquet full of scents of dark mountain berries, oak, vanilla, toasted spices and subtle undercurrents of woodsier notes beginning to come on with time. In the mouth, it’s loaded with fresh blackberry and black currant fruit flavors that have a brambly edge to them that works nicely here. This wine is fun, forward, generous and juicy, but with a sneaky sense of control and structure to offset that. There’s no real tannin interference to worry about, and it just drinks delightfully right now.
1997 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Aromatically, this wine is sweeter and more obvious than any other on the table, featuring overt aromas of plums, blueberries, purple pixie stick dust, balsa wood and faint eucalyptus on the nose. In the mouth, it’s the brightest-toned and most elevated wine in the line-up, with tangy blueberry fruit and mocha flavorings that are fresh and full of energy. It turns a bit more grounded, with some slightly savory undertones the next night, giving it a more complete and satisfying feel for my tastes. As such, I might suggest to give this one a bit of extra time in the decanter or a few more years in the cellar.
1999 Viader Proprietary Red Napa Valley. This is elegant, somewhat sublte and finely earthy on the nose, showing nuanced scents of tobacco leaf, menthol and jalapeno pepper wrapped around a core of bright purple fruit. It demonstrates a fine sense of bouyancy and refinement in the mouth, with an almost regal texture and easy balance carrying along the fine-flowing flavors of black currant fruit, chocolate, tobacco and earth. Even though I preferred the previous bottle of this I had a year ago, there’s no denying that this is a classy wine that’s drinking very nicely right now.
My personal rank order of preference at the end of the night was: 1) 1991 Anderson’s Conn Valley; 2) 1992 Beringer; 3) 1997 Beringer; 4) 1999 Viader; 5) 1992 Mondavi; 6) 1997 Heitz, though I’d be glad to drink any of them pretty much any time. Overall group voting had the 1992 Beringer as the overall winner of the evening by a pretty strong margin, though.
1971 Château Rieussec Sauternes. I still remember the tremendously enjoyable bottle of this Gerry brought to a tasting 7 years ago, so I was very happy that he generously opted to open another one with us to top off this particular evening. To be honest, I don’t think it’s really changed at all in the intervening years, still showing lively, intense and healthy all around. To begin, it’s a dark orange-brown color, with an amazing nose packed with aromas of Valencia oranges, rich marmalade, lavender flowers and crème brulee topping that just waft up out of the glass in impressive fashion. On the palate, it’s powerful and intense, with a seamless texture and fantastic acidic drive to the baked apricot, marmalade, dark honey and spice flavors. The finish is vibrant and long, and I see no reason not to try another bottle in another 7 years (or in another 7 minutes if I could get my hands on any!)