There was an opening in my friend Ed’s regular tasting group last month for their tasting of California Cabernets, and I was happy to answer the call. As usual, all wines were served blind, and the restaurant staff determined the order of serving, with all wines poured at once into numbered glasses.
1974 Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley. This wine displays a nose with great old-fashioned classicism in its resolved but juicy aromas of red currants, raspberries, dusty dirt road, pencil shavings and a pleasing sort of background leafiness. In the mouth, it shows some iodine, singed iron, earth, dark cherry and mixed currant flavors that show good life and vivacity despite yielding tannins and softening structure. It’s a very enjoyable wine and was my #3 wine of the night.
1976 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley. This looks pale and aged in the glass, and unfortunately it smells and tastes much the same. It shows aromas of sherry, mushroom broth, soy, nuts, balsamic and cooked cherries that are just not very pleasant, followed by a palate that is tart, nutty and pretty much dead.
2006 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. This is a whole different thing aromatically--showing sweet and rather concentrated aromas of blueberries, blue cotton candy and spiced plums that are big and nostril-coating. In the mouth, it’s loaded with plush and outgoing mocha, chocolate, plum and blueberry flavors that are decidedly sweet, very smooth and lusciously textured. The tannins really start to flood in late, though, so overall it’s best to hold off on this, in my opinion.
1984 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard Napa Valley. Unfortunately, this was CORKED.
2010 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. This is initially quite dark on the nose, with aromas of black leather, iron and blackberries that over time yield to somewhat sweeter bits of black raspberry and powdered sugar. In the mouth, I just keep thinking about how medicinal it tastes, while simultaneously being far too sweet and oaky. It’s a really big wine, with a sticky or tacky sort of texture to it, and it features flavors of anise, black licorice, dark vanilla, sweet oak and black Necco wafer that I just don’t like very much.
1985 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. This is very thin and very linear on the stingy nose—showing just a little bit of red currant and leather aromas. In the mouth, it’s totally dead. There’s no fruit left whatsoever. Indeed, it tastes almost like pure alcohol and acid. It was a weird showing, and clearly an over the hill bottle.
1986 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate Napa Valley. This wine has a pleasingly warm-fruited nose that delivers excellent aromas of peppercorns, sliced green peppers, leather, turned earth, warm cherries and baked raspberries. On the palate, it’s a little taut and rigid at times, with excellent structure and tone to the fleshy red fruit stuffing accented by tobacco and earth sensations. It’s young, but very tasty and it just gets better and better as the night goes on. By the end of the evening, I had it as my #2 wine of the night.
1990 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. There’s a dark and fairly serious bouquet to this wine, with smoldering scents of black cherries, currants, dusty earth and dark mineral notes. In the mouth, it displays solid push and interesting flavors of plum, black currants, mincemeat and stone, but also a pretty significant dose of tannin. It seems like it should deliver more than it does, though, as it’s too dry and blunt to really leave a lasting impression much of the time.
1994 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain. This is dark and smoky on the nose, with interesting aromas of peat moss, coffee beans, cool granite rock, funky cigar wrapper, dark mountain berries, black plums and black currants that feel old fashioned and classically made. In the mouth, it’s quite structured, but with lots of appealing dark mountain berry fruit flavors that have a cool minerality running beneath them. There is some tannin to contend with, but lots of fine flavor, too. It was just outside of my top 3 wines of the night.
1984 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley. I believe this was brought out as a back-up to the disappointing 1976 Georges de Latour, but really this didn’t show any better. It smells of sherried nuts, madeira, caramel and cigarette butts, and tastes of caramel, sherry, roasted nuts and cherries. It’s pretty much dead.
1973 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains. This was another back-up bottle that the owner decided to open up since so many wines were showing poorly. I was very glad of that, as it was clear and away my #1 wine of the night. First of all, the nose is a pure delight—delivering pure, sexy and classy aromas of cassis, currants, cocoa powder, cherry cookies and cooled campfire ashes. In the mouth, it’s gorgeously-flavored with cherry paste, raspberry jam and soft spice flavors draped over a fine structure and supported by precise tannins. At the very end of the evening, though, it shows some signs of drying out a bit, so my advice is to enjoy this right now if you have any.