It was exciting to get together a little while back with about 10 other local wine guys in Newton to taste through some California Cabernet Sauvignons from our cellars. None of the wines were tasted blind and we had plenty of starter and finishing wines bracketing the main tasting.
N.V. Laurent-Perrier Champagne Ultra Brut. This wine presents a very crunchy, zippy sort of nose full of struck match, flint, smoke, green apple, chalk and limestone sorts of aromas. It is much the same on the palate—taut, bracing and cutting, with an intense acidity. Flavors of green apple, lemon-lime, quinine and botanical herbs are bright, direct and cleansing. I do sometimes struggle with the austerity of extra brut, but this is pretty well done in that style.
N.V. Jacques Selosse Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru. According to the label, this was a July 2006 disgorgement. The nose is quite interesting--both crisp and creamy at the same time, with a lot of dark yeast, dried ginger and hazelnut aromas running beneath a very minerally, flinty-smoked streak. In the mouth, it is again quite yeasty, with a dark creamy beam of poached apple and pear flavors that are perhaps a bit more linear than their richness might lead one to expect. The finish is very clean and lasting, however, leaving a fine impression that is quite enjoyable when all is said and done.
1999 Weingut Knoll Riesling Smaragd Ried Loibner Loibenberg Wachau. The huge-framed bouquet of this wine blossoms up out of the glass with rich, moderately sweet, dense and succulent aromas of cooked apricots, copper kettle, kiwi and toasted caramel. For all that flamboyance, it is fresh and tangy underneath—full of rather unique character, in my opinion. In the mouth, it is a whole different matter—with a very mineral-laden, iron-tinged profile that is big-bottomed and richly underpinned but puckeringly dry and seemingly oxidative in style. It is surely interesting and worth a try, but it is a style that takes some getting used to.
2002 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Riesling Abtsberg Spätlese Mosel Saar Ruwer. This wine exhibits a very pretty, feminine and beguilingly lacy nose of peach fuzz, chalk, orange peel, meadow flowers and crystal minerality aromas featuring a gentle sweetness. In the mouth, it is seemingly more youthfully taut and chiseled in structure, yet full of pretty peach, pineapple and tangerine flavors accented by slate and flowery notes. It has a wonderful core that is just beginning to unwind, but I still enjoy what it has to give right now a good deal.
1994 Azienda Agricola Montevertine Riserva Toscana IGT. This wine transitioned us into the reds. It is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canailo and is just absolutely lovely on the nose—with classy and refined aromas of dried cherries, cranberries, mushrooms, old leather and aged cigar wrapper enveloping the senses. In the mouth, it is tangy and a bit elevated in acidity, but pure, pretty and refreshing with its flavor impressions of sour cherries, red flowers, red citrus and light raspberries. I keep coming back to the word “pretty” but it also just tastes great and is drinking perfectly now.
The California Cabernets:
1970 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon California Mountain Special Selection Napa Valley. This wine is very sadly CORKED. It’s a real bummer because the underlying stuffing seems otherwise healthy.
1974 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley. Oh boy, this is absolutely divine on the nose, showing off wonderfully mature yet striking aromas of red currants, dusty earth, sandalwood, velvety crushed cherries, rusty nail, iron ore and mint. It is a strong, ebullient sort of bouquet that excites but at the same time lulls you into mellow and relaxed mind-set as you just sit and take it all in. It is just a comfort in all ways, and I find myself coming back to it time and again. In the mouth, it is completely at ease with itself, showing great pedigree, balance and refinement to go with plenty of body and fruit still. Mature flavors of black cherry, cassis and mixed currant fruit are supported perfectly by the gentle but tangy acidity, and while the tannins have melted away, this is still finely-structured. It is not a real big wine at all at this stage, but it is subtle, delicious and rewarding. I don’t think it is the “best” wine on this night, but it is my favorite, for sure.
1984 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Lake Napa Valley. This wine shows off a dark and bold nose full of black mountain berry fruit, volcanic pumice, dark earth and fancy fudge that has fantastic depth at the core and is compellingly muscled but sexy. In the mouth, it is much fuller-bodied and richer than the 1974 Mondavi Reserve, with a bold and big style to the dark mountain fruit flavors. It is wonderfully silky-textured for such a sinewed wine, and finishes absolutely smooth and effortless on the back of the palate. It is a complete wine, really, and an absolute pleasure to drink.
1985 Buehler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Here one finds a rather finely-aged, claret-styled bouquet of tobacco leaf, fine earth, green pepper, dried blood, cedar shingle and black cherry fruit aromas that just seem really classically-done and easy to enjoy. In the mouth, it is full of succulent-sweet black cherry, black currant and dark earth flavors that are nicely unfolded at this point, yet still showing some prickly tannins and stubborn structure. The texture can be a bit tacky-feeling at times, and in general this is still very much alive and kicking. More importantly, though, it is a nice Bordelais-styled wine at this stage that tastes really nice right now.
1990 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. As perhaps is to be expected with Dunn, this wine is dark, dense and opaque in color. On the nose, it is similarly dark-styled—featuring aromas of bridle leather, gypsum, dark cherry and limestone that are kind of brooding and smoldering rather than particularly driven or overt. It certainly seems like it is holding a fair bit back at this stage of the game. In the mouth, it is full of deep, sappy fruit. But again, it seems a bit four-square at times. There are nice hints of menthol and tobacco to support the chewy, dark fruit flavors, but on the whole the wine just seems kind of disinterested right now. The stuffing is here, for sure, so I suppose my advice would be to hold onto it for a few more years before trying again.
1991 Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Chabot Vineyard Napa Valley. Based on prior experiences with this wine, I opted to decant this about 5 hours before we tasted it, and I think that resulted in a much more approachable and rewarding wine. The nose is nonetheless muscular, serious and cool, yet compelling and welcoming with its expressive aromas of blackberry, black currant, charcoal, dark chocolate, menthol and cedar shavings. It has a rich, but silken-textured feel in the mouth all the way through—with sweet blueberry and blackberry fruit sitting atop an earthy underbelly. It pushes ahead with excellent energy and drive in spite of some controlled tannins constantly lurking in the background. The finish could use a bit more finesse, but otherwise this is coming along quite nicely as long as it’s given a good deal of air beforehand.
1992 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate Napa Valley. Unfortunately, this wine is CORKED. I know everyone was really looking forward to drinking it.
1994 Seavey Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Two in a row (and three in total on this night), this wine is also CORKED!
1994 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains. This wine is 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Whatever the blend, it is absolutely smoking-good on the classy and fine-toned, yet compellingly attractive nose of black currant, limestone, cedar, sandalwood and sexy spices. In the mouth, it is old-fashioned goodness all around in a package dominated by black currant and blackberry fruit, dark roasted nuts, smoke, earth and savory salinity. There’s plenty of structure and depth here, with fine density and lip-smacking acidity that just pulls everything together into perfect harmony. It is one impressive wine and is probably just beginning to fully unwind.
1994 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. This blend is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. It displays a relatively shy and reserved nose of tobacco leaf, menthol, dried leather, dark cranberry, clay and loamy earth. In the mouth, it is considerably more expressive than on the nose, with a bright shot of acidity giving good lift to the core flavors of black currant and black raspberry fruit. Despite a pleasingly plush and pasty texture, this comes across as tangy and more refreshing than most, and it flows across the palate with pleasure and ease.
1994 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley. I enjoy this finely-pedigreed bouquet a good deal, with its red raspberry and red currant fruit aromas supported by oak-influenced accents of coconut, dill and graham cracker dust. In the mouth, it is deliciously sweet-fruited but not at all flamboyant or over-done. To the contrary, “classic” and “classy” are words I keep coming back to with this wine. The cherry, raspberry and red currant flavors are accented very nicely by bits of barrel spice, cedar and tobacco that give it a restrained, controlled feel and lead to a finely-balanced and pleasing finish. This may not jump out in a line-up such as this, but it offers delightful drinking right now, in my opinion.
1994 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection Napa Valley. Here one encounters a fun, showy and sexy sort of bouquet, loaded with aromas of rich sweet raspberry, cherry and red currant fruit, eucalyptus, cedar, cinnamon and baked dusty earth. I really enjoy its fruity, spicy, expressive character. In the mouth, it is utterly seamless, with a silky-smooth texture and debonair refinement. It is probably the most obviously modern-styled wine in the line-up, but it is hard to ignore the exuberant and smooth flavors of black cherry, fine earth, mocha and oak-influenced spices that are so nicely-integrated and polished. I see no problem enjoying this delicious wine now or holding it for a while.
1994 The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder Napa Valley. There’s a plump, sweet core of cherry syrup, cranberry juice, smoke, leather and fresh-cut paper aromas at the heart of this wine’s bouquet. In the mouth, it is a little funkier than many of the other Cabs on the table, and the tannins are a bit more obviously rough-hewn. It doesn’t show quite as much integration, class or complexity, but it is pretty enjoyable nonetheless because of the nice leather-tinged dark fruit that has good length and staying power on the palate. On its own, I suspect this would show pretty well, but in this company it is just a notch or two below.
1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley. This wine may have the most densely-packed nose of the whole line-up, showing dark, smoldering and mysterious bits of savory tobacco, earth and cedar aromas atop black cherry fruit. I personally think it is holding a fair bit back at this stage. In the mouth, I find it to be very, very serious and showing quite youthfully. Indeed, I would describe it as densely rich, thick-textured, big-boned and moderately tannic. The dark fruit is pasty and mouth-fillingly broad, but I find it to be mildly chewy. I know a lot of folks were really talking this wine up, but for me it really needs probably the most additional cellar time of any wine in this tasting.
1996 Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon Clos de Sainte Catherine. This wine is kind of funky and wild on the nose, with fun aromas of wax, honeycomb and flowers marred a bit by some late suggestions of canned asparagus. In the mouth, though, it is very nice all the way around. Flavors of hard caramel, peach pit, burnished apricots, wild honey and brown spices are smooth, moderately rich and funky-sweet from start to finish. I really enjoy it.
1997 Huët Vouvray Moelleux 1ère Trie Clos du Bourg. This wine smells fantastic-- showing off zesty, wild aromas of lilac, honey, chalk, copper, pineapple, grapefruit and funky wool. In the mouth, it is round and luscious, but lifted and powerful—delivering delicious flavors of honey, litchi, kiwi, dried pineapple, peach, lime and caramel. It is totally smooth, fine-flowing, multi-dimensional and loaded with personality. It’s lovely stuff.
1983 Gustave Lorentz Gewurztraminer Cuvee de l’An 2000 Altenberg de Bergheim Sélection de Grains Nobles. The bouquet that this wine displays is extremely intriguing--showing off absolutely flamboyant aromas of litchi fruit, kiwi, dried pineapple, marijuana and brown spices that really pull you in for additional sniffs. In the mouth, it is lush, juicy and exotic as hell—loaded with succulent-sweet flavors of kiwi, crème brulee topping, lime and litchi supported by a fair dose of baking spices. It is a style I like a lot, and for me, this is just fantastic.
1985 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Porto. Sweet blueberries, blackberries and raspberries lead the way on the nose here, quickly followed by subtler undertones of limestone, herbs and bright but controlled brown spirit aromas. In the mouth, it is very warm, rather sweet, thickly pasty and openly easy-drinking. There’s more intensity to the alcohol spirit tones on the palate, but the fleshy red cherry paste and warm berry compote make the wine flow rich and easy, without much tannic interference at all. It turns a bit toward cough syrup notes on the finish as time goes on, but otherwise this is a big, rich, warmly-fruited port.
1994 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto. This wine pours into the glass with a huge amount of sediment, suggesting a need for a good decanting next time around, I would say. On the nose, it smells nicely of black plums, macerated cherries, fancy nuts and gentle spirits. In the mouth, it is quite dense, pasty-rich and absolutely packed with fig, prune, roasted nut, caramel, fruitcake, baking spice and classy spirit flavors that expand to all corners of the mouth and leave a rich coating behind that lasts a good long while. It is a huge, low-acid, decidedly sweet and luscious mouthful of wine that really puts a fine cap on any evening.