Tag Archives: Napa

1984/1985 Napa Vintages: Comparative Blind Tasting

Recently, I attended a single-blind* tasting with a group of wine collectors whom I regularly meet to share interesting wine. While it has lately become popular to bash the direction of Napa reds and the influence of Robert Parker on the Napa wine industry, here was a chance to evaluate the longevity of Napa wines, BEFORE the wine style began to change. I will try to walk you thru the mindset of a single-blind tasting and wine evaluation. Hopefully, you will find it interesting. Hitch-up your britches, pour a glass of wine and let’s git after it…

(*”Single-blind” is the term used when you are provided with only general information, say: growing region and vintage, or Bordeaux blend and cool climate vineyard. With a minimum of information for context, you must then determine as much about the wine as possible, such as: grape varietal(s), winery – maybe even winemaker, etc. “Double-blind” tasting would include no information about the wine prior to tasting.)

Starter

I always enjoy starting a wine evening off with bubbly, but 1983 Dom Perignon? What a start to a great evening. The Dom still had medium+ acidity, was well balanced, but had moved beyond nutty to more of a brown butter component. The age on the wine gave it a beautiful texture. For those who have not drunk aged Champagne, the texture can be so gorgeous, it is worth tasting for the mouthfeel alone. The young Veuve Clicquot was bright and bracing as it should be.

The Cat (Wine) is Out of the Bag

Out of the bag quite literally… Here are the pics of the bottles out of their paper bags, after we wrote our tasting notes and had attempted to select which bottles matched which producer. Our host served charcuterie, bread and some beautiful pate I really enjoyed to clear/accompany the palate.

1974 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Very balanced wine, but reaching its limit. Still with medium acidity and medium-minus tannins, this drank reasonably well, but the oxidation had taken over the fruit and was a few years beyond its drinking window. The fruit had moved to more prune and raisin, than fresh fruit flavors. This would have drunk better at around 35 years of age, around 10 years ago. The brownish color around the rim and prune flavors gave it away, almost all of us identified this wine correctly.

1984 Diamond Creek Vineyard Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine still had strong tannins. It was a little watery with a very restrained nose and palate. Diamond Mountain region wines in the past have tasted big, tannic, with subdued fruit and without much nuance (IMO)… but with age, developed great mouthfeel. Exactly how this wine tasted. This was an easy tell, with some tasting history to reference.

1985 Silver Oak Alexander Valley (Sonoma) Cabernet Sauvignon

This was the fruitiest of the bunch and had the most obvious oak.  This was the surprise of the evening (IMO). Recent vintages of Silver Oak Cab Sauv are not generally viewed as being able to stand up to extended aging, but this 80’s era vintage was balanced and still fruity. A nice wine with tremendous character for 30+ years of age. With the most obvious oak on the nose and palate, this fit the Silver Oak tasting profile, making for a high probability of accuracy.

1984 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

I mistook the next two for each other. I have always had an odd relationship with BV as a producer. I have not really cared for their lower priced wines, having only a minimum of value (IMO), while their famous Georges de Latour release every year is good, but over-priced. They also seem to develop complex flavors in their higher priced wine, some flavors of which I don’t care for. So, I may have gone into this tasting with preconceived notions… which is always an interesting aspect of blind tasting. I guessed this wine was the Joseph Phelps, mostly because I enjoyed this wine as having the most balanced profile of the wines tasted and having the most gorgeous mouthfeel. Frankly, I didn’t think a BV wine could be this good. (buzzer sound) Well, I blew that one! Chalk one up for having a closed mind.

1985 Joseph Phelps Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

I described this one in my notes with the typical wine industry generic term, “food friendly”. The kiss of the death for uninteresting wine in a tasting note in the U.S. This was the most acidic of the bunch. Which was amazing, since this wine was 33 years old. It was a little vegetal with a touch of tomato, but no green bell pepper… both characteristics of under-ripe Cab Sauv. Hard to believe this wine was from a warm vintage. This could only happen in a Napa vintage before 1995. No self-respecting Napa producer would ever harvest Cab this early in a warm year today. I enjoyed this wine the least of the bunch. Poor balance and “interesting”, but not particularly pleasant flavor profile.

1988 Lynch Bages Bordeaux Blend

This was smokey, with medium+ acidity and medium tannin. This was another example of an aged Bordeaux showing balance after extended aging. The flavor profile included an earthiness, that when you taste enough of 1st-5th growth Bordeaux wine, you come to recognize. Still with fresh fruit (blackberry) and stewed currants, the fruit was forward on the palate. I am not a huge fan of Pauillac region wines. I prefer the St. Estephe and Margaux regions in Bordeaux, but this was drinking nicely at 30 years and was a strong representative of Left Bank Bordeaux.

The Finish

IMG Port Btl

Just WOW!

This aged, vintage port was exceptional! The fruit had lasted very well. Not too sweet, tasting like a more recent vintage… but for a port, this wine was so balanced… integrated alcohol, good acidity, soft & full mouthfeel. All of us agreed, this was the outstanding wine of the evening. I wish I could hold on to ports this long. This one was worth the wait.

Recap

Well, there you have it. A great evening! I hope you enjoyed the personal perspective and found insight into blind tasting methodology. I think you can see, blind tasting accuracy is mostly: having tasted a lot of wine labels and being able to hold them in your memory. These were all exceptional wines, wines I would score from 90-99 on the Parker scale. We definitely proved the point, most collectors can easily identify Bordeaux in a line-up of Napa Cabs. All of us guessed the Lynch Bages correctly.

Napa Cab Sauv: Now & Back Then

Not many are allowed the opportunity to taste a selection of Napa Cabs from the 70’s & 80’s. This was a great experience. I will reiterate comments made before about Napa in the last 30+ years… Prior to 1995 Napa made true Bordeaux style wines: structured, leaner, lower alcohol and well-suited for extended aging. 1995 to 2003 was an interim period, where Napa Cabs were fruitier and more ripe than before, but still able to handle 10-20 years in the bottle. 2004 and after, most of the wine was produced for optimum drinking windows in the 5-10 year range. This is just a gross generality. There are individual exceptions with both shorter and longer aging windows, but in general, I have found this evaluation to hold true.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Filed under Alexander Valley, Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Breaking Down Winemaking Styles

During a recent trip to Napa-Sonoma, California, I had the opportunity to interview several winemakers and talk with tasting room managers in the premium wine segment.  The discussion produced a large amount of material, but a few ideas stood out. One question continued to run over and over in my mind:  does a winery begin with some sort of vision for the final product?  If so, how does it come to be…

Is Wine Style Part of the Business Plan?

 

**INSERT Dilbert cartoon HERE** ©Scott Adams

 

Folks, I am not able to include this Dilbert cartoon, but you simply must click on this Link and check it out.  Funny stuff and right on point for this commentary.  This cartoon was excerpted from: Washington Business Journal, “Is your vision statement for real?”, Mar 17, 2011, Link Here.  Good read!  Unfortunately, even non-profit commentary use must still respect creative property!

 

The Vision

In the over $25/btl retail segment, I would say the wine itself easily contributes 2/3 (or more) to the brand identity.  Can you develop a brand, without developing a vision for the product?  I find this kind of discussion fascinating…

Is it important for employees and customers to understand that vision?

Should a Winery Have a “Wine Style”?

Every winery has a story to tell that differentiates them from the thousands of other producers in the marketplace.  That story is the cornerstone of each label.  So, what does this have to do with winemaking? Everything!  The questions posed in these interviews uncovered a glimpse into that underlying vision and ultimately how they wish their wines to be perceived by both their own organization and the consumer.

Why would an owner choose the difficult premium wine segment of the market in the first place?  There must be a calling, or a passion driving that decision?  Framing that story in a way that can capture a wine enthusiast’s imagination… is a message worth crafting.  So, where could wine style fit into this picture?  In this price category, more than any fancy, gimicky label design, or strategic marketing plan, the wine itself defines the brand.  If this thinking is sound, then the style of wine produced IS the winery’s identity.  Following this logic, finding a way to bring the story behind making the wine directly to the consumer is absolutely critical to building the brand.  If you look at wineries in this way, what stories do they have in common?  After interviewing enough winemakers / owners, you start to see commonalities.  In my opinion, the choice of wine style seems to manifest in one of three different ways:

1.  Begin With the Quality of the Fruit  –  Wine should express the character of the fruit and Terroir

  • This is the winemaker as viticulturist view.  Requires an emphasis on the wine growing.  With a complementary view of nurturing the vines to produce supreme quality fruit.  This is best implemented in an estate winery situation.

Impact on the Wine – Tends to add complexity and layering of flavors.  These wines often have a more defined mid-palate. This style is frequently made to be fruit-forward and emphasizes clarity and freshness.  This approach will usually drive good structure, but may not emphasize balance and often has a varietally correct flavor profile.  This style is typified by the winemaker as farmer – often with formal training in biology, botany, or agriculture and the winemaker leans heavily on learning his trade through internships and experience.

2.  Begin With Analyzing the Fruit  –  Better wine through better chemistry

  • This is the winemaker as technologist view.  Monitor and measure everything.  Wine is a mixture of chemical components and the optimum desired profile can be identified and reproduced.

Impact on the Wine – Brings more consistent quality.  These wines tend to focus on correct ratios.  There is rarely a desired component missing, but the product can often lack finesse.  Tannins, acidity, alcohol, phenolic development all carefully measured to arrive at the optimal formula generally accepted by the industry.  This style is typified by the winemaker with a UC Davis MS in Enology, who has taken the technological training completely to heart.

3.  Begin at the End  –  Start with a clear vision for the final product

  • This is the winemaker as artist view.  Where the winemaker is the star and bringer of quality.  This demands a winemaker as leader, who can leverage a history of experience, knowledge and technique to drive the wine to match his vision.

Impact on the Wine – These wines tend to be either elegant and composed, or knock your socks off with a focused over-the-top approach.  Focusing on the elegant approach…  Whether, or not the fruit is up to muster, these winemakers find a way to make the wine balanced and have great mouth-feel.  These most often are classically styled wines, with good structure, acidity, tannins and texture.  Flavors and aromas are less of an emphasis.  This style is typified by the winemaker as the leader and star – having a decade, or two of experience, always knowing the right decision to make, regardless of vintage variation.

Most wineries mix some combination of these ideas, but one of these philosophies typically shines through.

Does One Style Produce Better Wine?

The answer is most definitely no, but the wines within each style category do tend to have similar characteristics.  I enjoy wines in my cellar from producers that fall into all three categories, depending on my mood.

As a consumer, does identifying the story behind your favorite winery matter?

This time the answer is most definitely yes.  If you are like myself and many of the wine enthusiasts I know, we enjoy quality wines, but like to vary flavors and styles.  You may recognize these different styles in your favorite wines.

I have always found this to be sound advice:  “The key to finding new wines you are likely to enjoy, is to track the winemakers and vineyards.”  Pay attention to this information for your favorite wines and it will help you find other labels worth trying.  Connecting to the story behind your favorite winemakers and favorite vineyards can make your wine appreciation much richer.

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Filed under Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Winemaker Interview

2006 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Calistoga

190871

Ramey Wine Cellars

California, Napa Valley, Calistoga

Wine Tasting Note:

2006 was an interesting vintage year that seemed to favor old-world style Napa producers. IMO, it was difficult to find valley floor producers with exceptional wines. Whereas, many of the mountain fruit producers (Spring, Howell, etc.) with a more subdued style (Ladera, Cain, etc.) released amazingly soft, nuanced cabernet sauvignon. This Ramey followed the line… After 30 min. decant, complex nose of blackberry, plum, cigar box and mint. This wine is black fruit forward with a mid-palate of vanilla and a medium short finish of bitter dark chocolate. The texture is a bit watery and the alcohol is not integrated well. Medium-high acidity with medium tannins. Rather disjointed and unbalanced. This is difficult to enjoy, without food. Try accompanying beef, or pasta with a rich tomato-based sauce. I don’t think this will improve with more time in the bottle. Drink now.

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Filed under Calistoga, Napa Valley, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Can You Justify Spending on Premium Wines?

Okay, I know there aren’t many wine drinkers out there that maintain a diverse cellar of bottle-aged wines, but for those of you who do, and invest in the spendy, premium wines… how do YOU justify it?

Which Wines Are in Your Cellar?

2/3 of my cellar is made up of moderately priced red and white wines of good value.  The other 1/3 is reserved for more expensive, special red wines.  So, just what constitutes a “special” wine worthy of a premium price? It has taken me 20 years of collecting wine and an evolving palate to finally arrive at a couple of answers.  My justifications for spending $75+ on a bottle of wine are:

1. Wines that have structure, balance, texture, be complex, BUT ALSO be accessible in no more than 5 years, and be able to age (AND improve) for 10 years or more from the vintage date (yes, even Barolo).

That doesn’t mean the wine will be in its prime drinking window then, just that I can enjoy it and then look forward to another beautiful experience down the road.  Enjoying wines this way, requires a purchase of several bottles of a wine, per vintage.  I will rarely do this until a producer has proven a good match for my palate and been consistent with quality vintages, year over year.  Although, sometimes you just know from drinking a wine… and I say “drink”, not taste.  This has happened too many times… Tasting Room Attendant hits you with attitude, goes on and on about the wine and presses you to purchase his/her amazing $100 (speaking of Napa here) bottle.  Then, you are hit with a 1 oz. pour!  Who needs a direct relationship with a winery, when you are treated like that!  With a good experience, enjoyable wine and the right value, I will become a year-over-year customer and they can start thinking of me as a revenue source for years to come…

2. Wines that my family and friends enjoy.

An example in this category for me is expensive champagne.  Not what I personally would spend big dollars on, but I really enjoy sharing good bubbly with friends who appreciate it!

Overview

IMHO, the holy grail of wine is the 1st category.  Examples for me would be vintages of Barolo, Southern & Northern Rhone (also CA “Rhone Style”) and mountain fruit Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (Veeder, Spring, Diamond & Howell).  Yeah, I know… no classified growth Bordeaux & cru Burgundy included.  I have not tasted Bordeaux meeting that criteria under $75/btl. AND other regions bring the same level of enjoyment for $50.  ENTRY LEVEL Burgundy STARTS at $50/btl and I just don’t enjoy pinot noir enough to explore that varietal for that kind of money.  My Oregon Pinot is just fine thank you.  I have Bordeaux and Burgundy in my cellar, but just to provide a representative collection, and it skews my average bottle price more than I would like.  I know many of you DO spend that $150+/btl for Bordeaux and Burgundy.  I wonder, how do you justify devoting the disproportionate percentage of your wine budget?

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Filed under Barolo, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone, Spring Mountain, Wine Cellar, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting

2007 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

190136

Frank Family Vineyards

California, Napa Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

Right out of the bottle, this wine was horribly disjointed. After a couple of hours, it started to come together. Maybe just a dead phase for the wine?. The nose is full of alcohol, vanilla and red plum. The texture is a bit thin. High acidity and medium high tannins. The palate is strange for a Napa cabernet. My first impression is of strawberry jam, but then in the mid-palate the traditional flavors show up of blackberry and plum and then leaves you with a medium length finish of lingering fruit and sweet vanilla. No minerality, or earthiness whatsoever. There has to be merlot mixed in this. The alcohol is less integrated than I would prefer. This wine had too much fruit and not enough complexity.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes