Blind tasting of 18 California Cabernets

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Blake Brown
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Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2010 10:36 pm
Location: Santa Barbara

Blind tasting of 18 California Cabernets

Post by Blake Brown » Fri Jun 15, 2018 10:14 am

Our monthly blind tasting group met recently to blind taste the proposed theme of California Cabernet Sauvignon from 2005 or older. As it usually develops, some actually bring wines within the established parameters.

Our host entertained us in his upper Montecito hillside home which had fantastic vistas overlooking the ocean with a backdrop of the nearby mountain range behind. Additionally, is property suffered significant damage from the rains and ensuing rock and mudslides in January. We toured that area that was fortunately lower and away from the home. He had 60 truck loads of rock and mud trucked to his vineyard property, an offer that ws greatly appreciated by the county folks.

We started off with:

NV HENRIOT SOUVERAIN BRUT In Magnum- typically 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir with no Pinot Meunier; this seemed to have a high dosage with a serious amount of sweetness; it had nice, bright citrus notes with a light creamy mousse.

The first of 3 flights of 6 wines served blind, individually scored and voted upon at the end of each flight prior to revealing the wine:

1995 COMPANEROS CABERNET SAUVIGNON BUTTONWOOD VINEYARD SANTA YNEX VALLEY- there are 3 quality home wine making groups represented in this tasting group and this comes from one that has been established for over 3 decades and has been a hot ticket item at numerous local charity auctions in the past and with good reason, these are really good wines and this one was no exception; the colour was a dark red purple with no sign of ageing; it was perfectly varietally correct with hints of eucalyptus and dark fruit in the nose, cedar, mint and eucalyptus accented black cherry/ berry on the palate and all the way to the back end; full bodied, rich and complex; my #1 in the flight.

1996 CHATEAU MONTELENA ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- 13.5% abv; from this winery established in 1882 comes a real gem; the colour showed some age which translated into leather and earthy black currant and a touch of blackberry served up in a full body with nice and welcomed length; it was in good balance, easy on the palate and exuded class; my #2 and the groups #1 in the flight.

1990 FIRESTONE WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON SANTA YNEZ VALLEY- the label stated this was a “sample- not for re-sale” and I firmly believe no one would have objected, at least for this bottle, as it was horribly inundated with VA.

1998 PAGAN BROTHERS DALY VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON SANTA YNEZ VALLEY- from one of the other home wine making groups, this had somewhat youthful colour along with spice, red cherry/ berry fruit in the nose and more of the same on the palate with a big hit of wild maraschino cherry coming in at mid palate and extending through the back end.

1998 STAGS LEAP WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- according to their site, 1998 was a different kind of vintage at Stags' Leap Winery; the weather was cooler than normal through the spring and into the summer months; the Cabernet that resulted had a linear structure supporting spicy, big, red-fruit characteristics; winemaker Robert Brittan fermented the grapes in small lots, many with open tops and did hand-punching of the caps during extended maceration; after fermentation, the wines were aged in medium-toast French Alliers oak barrels for 23 months; our bottle has some initial funk in the nose that fortunately blew off and gave way to pleasing notes of concentrated black cherry and blackberry; the taste profile included more of the same plus a streak of spice and cigar box; the fruit dried out just at the end.

1997 FISHER VINEYARDS WEDDING VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON SONOMA COUNTY- I remember this was highly touted by the wine scribes and commanded a relatively high price tag when released in the 90s; I was disappointed to discover who made this wine as it was severely corked.

Prior to pouring the next flight, our host presented us with a special bottle made by a friend of his:

1975 J&J WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- unfined, unfiltered; this was such a treat; it had amazing youthful colour and a bounty of dried blackberry, black currant and plum fruit that was delivered full bodied with a velvety texture; it held on for a long finish and if served blind, I would have thought it to have been much younger. See photos of the front and back labels.

The 2nd flight of 6 wines served blind:

2003 ETUDE CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc; a Tony Soter product; the pure dark purple colour suggested we are moving into younger wines; the aromatics and taste confirmed such with fresh, ripe black currant, blackberry, and black cherry with accents of pencil lead, liquorice and coffee; it had nice balance and great mouthfeel plus a long, pleasing finish; great wine; my and the group`s #1 in this flight and one of the best on the night.

2003 CAKEBREAD CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- blended with 11% Merlot, 0.7% Cabernet Franc and 0.3% Malbec; this had an inky dark purple colour and inviting aromatics of spicy, ripe dark fruit; the taste included black cherry, blackberry, plum and blueberry with a serious hit of dark chocolate coming in late; it was full bodied, layered and long; loved it; I had it tied for #2 in the flight.

2003 ATILOS CABERNET SAUVIGNON CENTRAL COAST- unfiltered, unfixed; a new label to me, this had a youthful colour, a significant amount of oak spice in the nose and taste along with a lot of sweetness; the minty, eucalyptus notes were mindful of Silver Oak, but this did not display that pedigree; it finished hot and low in my scoring.

2002 LANCASTER ESTATE RED WINE ANDERSON VALLEY- a Bordeaux blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot; it had a youthful dark purple colour, aromas of sweet, wood spiced black cherry continued on with noticeable oak influence to the back end where it finished with a bit of heat.

2000 BIGHORN CELLARS CABERNET SAUVIGNON GRAND RESERVE NAPA VALLEY- the colour shows a bit of ageing, but the black fruit exudes a youthful, vibrant and ripe profile; black cherry is most prominent and some tobacco and cedar contributes to the tastiness; full bodied, layered and holds on for a grand finish; my tied for #2 in the flight.

2001 FLORA SPRINGS RUTHERFORD HILLSIDE RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- sweet and oaky, this was very fruit forward with black cherry and black currant most evident with equal parts of wood, vanilla and toast.

The 3rd flight of 6 wines served blind:

2004 FLORA SPRINGS CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- randomly placed next to another Cab from the same producer, the fruit for this one primarily comes from their Komes Ranch vineyards in Rutherford, as well as their Oakville and Pope Valley vineyards; as with the 01`, there`s a lot of oak here joining in with the sweet black currant and black cherry fruit.

2004 BRANDER ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE SANTA YNEZ VALLEY- over many decades, I’ve had many bottles of this wine, the regular Cab and the Bouchet, an estate blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Cabernet Franc and a bit of Merlot and they have all been good; and this comes from a producer that is known for his Sauvignon Blancs; having it blind gave it one more opportunity to shine and indeed it did; the youthful dark purple colour announces possible seriousness beyond; the nose was redolent of fresh, ripe black cherry; the taste carried this further with additions of cedar, black raspberry, black currant and dried herbs; it was full bodied, rich and powerful and stayed the course for a long finish.

It was extra cool that the winemakers, Fred Brander [our host for this evening] and Fabian Bravo, were on hand to share in the group`s delight about their fine wine which easily came in first in the flight.

2005 CLARK-CLAUDON VINEYARDS ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- a friend who also attended this tasting turned me on to this producer back in the 90s; I discovered the people behind the label were extra special as well as their wines and purchased many bottles over many years; the bottle shape they have used is LONG and SKINNY and in a blind tasting, it`s pretty easy to detect by any that are familiar with it so I decanted it early in the day and poured it in to an Au Bon Climat Isabelle Pinot Noir bottle before bagging it; the weight of the ABC bottle was so heavy, it tricked the one who was pouring it into thinking there was still a lot of wine left when in fact, it was drained; upon tasting, I did not recognise it, but was pleased with its showing; it was young, energetic and full bodied, had lovely cedar infused blueberry, blackberry and black currant notes, was easy on the palate and held on for a long welcomed finish.

2005 YORK CREEK ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON SPRING MOUNTAIN NAPA VALLEY- a blend including 9% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot; as with many of the others on this night, oak seemed to be more prevalent; in this case, it gave sweet and slightly toasty, blackberry and black currant in the aromatics and taste; it was full bodied, and finished with a touch of blueberry and plum.

2006 CLOS DU BOIS MARLSTONE CABERNET SAUVIGNON ALEXANDER VALLEY- 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec; displaying youthfulness in its colour and expression, this was pleasant and similar to the others just tasted in that it had significant oak influence giving toasty, cedar and liquorice infused blackberry, plum and boysenberry fruit; it was vibrant and highly energetic that should settle down with time.

2004 FORMAN CABERNET SAUVIGNON NAPA VALLEY- 14.6% abv; also blended in are Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot; another streak of oakiness shows up in this wine with cedar accented toasted dark fruit joined by minerals, vanilla and milk chocolate; by mid palate, the sweet fruit was more expressive and took over; it had nice mouthfeel and was medium bodied with nice finesse.

As always, I’m appreciative of the fellowship that exudes in this group. For many of our memebers, it`s more about getting together and sharing some food and wine.

For me, I also love the challenge presented by blind tastings of dissecting wines and attempting to identify various characteristics and to express them verbally and in print and to compare those that have been previously experienced to past notes. This is one of the major reasons I take notes.


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