1994 and 1997 California Cabernet Retrospective

Chicago, IL

Tasted April 28, 2009 by psmith with 2,158 views

Introduction

This was a tasting and dinner held at Knightsbridge in Chicago. Wines were organized in flights of five, where each flight was blind and consisted of two pairs of the wine in both the '94 and '97 vintages, as well as a "ringer". The tasting preceded a wonderful steak dinner by Chef Matt.

To keep things interesting, the group was asked to rate the wines on a standard 20 point scale. Reading them a few days later, it's difficult to reconcile my ratings with my shorthand notes, so I'll make no claims regarding consistency other then a general non-monotonic correlation between my likes and dislikes and the ratings.

Flight 1 - Flight One (5 notes)

Red
1994 Dominus Estate Napanook Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley
From Magnum. Deep red fruit and earthy mint and tobacco type notes. A Bordeaux sensibility but distinctly Californian. Somewhat out of whack at first, with a somewhat hollow middle and hot finish, but rounds out really well fairly quickly. Firm, fine tannins. A lot of time left. Rated 19/20.
Red
1998 Dominus Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
More flashy styling than the former ('94) - red and black fruit with coffee undertones. Fine tannins. Generous on the front, but slightly angular and raw. Big wine for a '98. Rated 17/20.
Red
1997 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
Roasted coffee notes and red fruit undertones. Sort of a hybrid of classic and modern styling. Ripe fruit. Fine, but resolving tannins, but still quite bright and vibrant. Well balanced. Rated 18/20.
Red
1997 Dominus Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
Somewhat bubble gummy, grapey flavors. Ripe fruit, but a more classic structure with ripe tannins. A bit front heavy. Needs lots of time if it's to resolve. Rated 15/20.
Red
1994 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
More streamlined, California styling. Fine red cherry fruit with eucalyptus highlights. A bit front heavy, and correspondingly hollow in the middle, but that's being picky. Will last, but somewhat lacking in individual character. Resolved tannin with few seams. Rated 17/20.

Flight 2 - Flight Two (5 notes)

Red
1994 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley
Heady sweet red fruits and rich cassis notes - perfumed and minty. Full palate, with somewhat coarse tannins for the style. Boarders on overripeness but manages to just keep everything in check. Well balanced throughout, but for a bit of heat on the finish. Rated 18/20.
Red
1994 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
Out of balance nose, almost 1998 in style with not unattractive dark fruit but a green edge. Raw, hard tannins to the palate, and finishes somewhat alcoholic. Better and more streamlined with time. Not consistent with previous bottles. Rated 13/20.
Red
1993 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley
flawed
Dark, pruney fruit with loads of volatile acidity. Not as offensive on the palate, but for the nasty, sharp finish. Stewed. Cooked at some point. Rated 7/20.
Red
1997 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
Roasted on the nose, with dark, overripe fruits. Better on the palate, where a gripping tannic profile keeps the fruit from being too heavy. Porty. Not my style, and unclear whether this is what it should be. Rated 14/20.
Red
1997 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley
Fine, ripe red cherry and cassis fruit. Well resolved palate with fine tannins and great purity. Almost a bit fruit heavy and lacking a bit in structure, but still very nice. Rated 17/20.

Flight 3 - Flight Three (5 notes)

Red
1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia USA, California, Napa Valley
Big, ripe wine. Classic California styling - intense and unabashedly flashy. Fine tannins. Big in every way, but held in check. Still quite young. Rated 20/20.
Red
1994 Pride Mountain Vineyards Reserve Claret USA, California, North Coast, Napa / Sonoma
Very ripe. Red, black, streamlined fruit with some vanilla undertones. Full bodied and still quite tannic, though in a fine, resolved way. Flirts with overdone, but doesn't cross the line. Rated 19/20.
Red
1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia USA, California, Napa Valley
Syrupy dark fruits with maple syrup oaky notes and some VA. Porty and a bit blowsy, but certainly not bad. Rounds out a bit with time. Rated 14/20.
Red
1997 Pride Mountain Vineyards Reserve Claret USA, California, North Coast, Napa / Sonoma
Super ripe, a bit overly so in fact. Lots of vanilla oak influence on the nose, but more vibrant red fruits on the palate to keep things enjoyable. Semi-sharp acidity to the finish. Fine tannins. Rated 16/20.
Red
1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia USA, California, Napa Valley
Pretty blue fruits and violet notes. Weighty, peasant mouthfeel. Well integrated and balanced wine, though I get the impression that it's still a bit closed and clearly has a lot of time left. Very solid. Rated 19/20.

Flight 4 - Flight Four (5 notes)

Red
1994 Opus One USA, California, Napa Valley
Ripe red fruits. Seamless profile with classic styling yet impressive weight. Refined. Medium body. Very nice wine. Rated 19/20.
Red
1993 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Proprietor Grown Pritchard Hill USA, California, Napa Valley
Tends towards darker fruits with some red undercurrents. Full on the palate, but falls off to too much alcohol on the finish. Very concentrated. A bit candied. Better than my last bottle of this. Rated 17/20.
Red
1997 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection USA, California, Napa Valley
All coffee on the nose. Streamlined bright red fruits, with a great mouthfeel and well balanced, but for a bit of intrusive raw tannins on the finish. Medium body. Fruity. Nice wine. Rated 18/20.
Red
1994 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection USA, California, Napa Valley
From magnum. Coffee, dark fruits, and charred oak notes. More subdued, gentler palate, with slightly coarse tannins. Maturing nicely. Rated 18/20.
Red
1997 Opus One USA, California, Napa Valley
Sweet fruit nose. Ripe, but not overly invasive on the palate. Gripping fine tannins. Lacking a bit in character. Will last a long time. Rated 16/20.

Flight 5 - Flight Five (5 notes)

Red
1994 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Ripe sweet dark fruits and spice. Fine tannins with a weighty, full-bodied mouthfeel. Bright, vibrant wine with lots of time left. Modern styling. Very nice. Rated 19/20.
Red
1994 Harlan Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
Noticeable spicy wood influence and super-ripe fruits. Huge, intense wine, but well balanced with a great, weighty mouthfeel. Mouth-puckering intensity. Very nice. Rated 19/20.
Red
1998 Harlan Estate The Maiden USA, California, Napa Valley
Really pretty dark fruits and mint notes. Clean, with fine tannins. A bit of alcohol on the finish but not particularly intrusive. Medium-bodied. Very nice. Rated 19/20.
Red
1997 Harlan Estate USA, California, Napa Valley
Pruney, overblown nose. Overripe on the palate without sufficient structure and vibrancy to balance the big, intensely extracted styling. Lots of VA. Porty. Rated 14/20.
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Red
1997 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Bright, vibrant cassis and red fruit notes. Well balanced and finely tannic. Great purity. Very nice wine. Rated 19/20.

Flight 6 - Flight Six (5 notes)

This was the only non-blind flight, and was served after the tasting with dinner.

Red
1993 Dalla Valle Maya USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville
Super pure ripe red and black fruits. Clean wine - well balanced throughout and very pure, with none of the hard tannins the vintage sometimes shows. Full-bodied with a great mouthfeel. Super wine.
Red
1994 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
Somewhat muted wine, with medium-intensity red cherry liqueur type fruits. Despite not being especially big anymore, somewhat hollow in the middle for lack of structure. Definitely enjoyable, but showing more angular than expected given its reputation.
Red
1997 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
Pruney and overdone dark fruits. Intense wine with blowsy, porty, chocolate milkshake fruit and fine but abundant tannins. Really big and front heavy. Too much; not enjoyable.
Red
1994 Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Madrona Ranch USA, California, Napa Valley
Ripe without being candied - sweet red and black cherry fruit. Medium-bodied and well balanced. Fine tannins. Very nice.
Red
1993 Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Madrona Ranch USA, California, Napa Valley
Sweet fruit and classic Abreu styling, but somewhat dilute and lacking in structure owing to the vintage. Nice purity. Pretty wine, but not particularly special.

Closing

Some surprising results overall, but as long as '94 Harlan shows well I feel like all is reasonably correct in the universe (I think it finished 8th). Had the last flight been rated, I'm confident I would have had '93 Maya near the top. Overall the '94's showed similar characteristics to their '97 counterparts in terms of ripeness and flavor profile, but were generally better balanced and structured, without quite the tendency for blowsiness or a hollow midpalate. That said, both vintages clearly produced some stellar wines with plenty of aging potential.

Group top five: (1) '94 Shafer HSS (2) '94 Insignia (3) '97 Insignia (4) '94 Pride Reserve Claret (5) '98 Maiden

Lots of generosity demonstrated by all of the participants - great event!

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