The United States confidently boasts some of the world’s greatest fine wines, with the big, bold Cabernets from California and in particular Napa Valley attracting the spotlight. Tonight, we tasted a selection of the very top Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa and its surrounding AVAs, as well Quilceda Creek, rated as Washington State’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon producer by Robert Parker.
2000, 2004 and 2010, we tasted 3 flights of 3 vintages, opening every bottle five hours before the tasting, and decanting the 2010s for almost two hours, every bottle still showed remarkable tightness of tannins and restrained fruit despite plenty of breathing time, proving that the structure and density of these wines should not be underestimated! These wines will still need time, even the 2000s are only just showing signs of reaching their drinking windows. But with patience, drinkers will be rewarded with generous fruit and wines that will fight on equal grounds with many classic Grand Cru Classé Clarets! Here are our takes on the wines that night:
Ridge Montebello 2000
One of the best wines of the evening, the Monte Bello 2000 is a blend of 75% Cab 23% Merlot and 2% Cab Franc. It displayed a rustic bouquet of forest floor, cigar box and leather, showing that the last 18 years in bottle wasn’t for nothing. There’s layered complexity, with lovely cassis, black currant, hawthorn and cedar notes. Ripe, balanced, and extremely well integrated, everything comes together very naturally and has a very harmonious finish. Ready to drink now.
Joseph Phelps Insignia 2000
A very big wine, the Insignia 2000 is a 77% Cab Sauv, 18% Merlot and the rest Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cab Franc, utilizing all five Bordeaux varietals. Powerful, ripe, jammy, with a wild intensity. Almost a little too ripe, but it has decent structure albeit a little green on the finish. If you big, spicy and oaky wines, then this could be your calling card.
Chateau Montelena Estate 2000
A blend of mostly Cabernet at 97%, with the remaining Cabernet Franc, this was the biggest of the trio, with a very dense inky palate. Sweet spice, cigar box, concentrated notes of black currant with excellent structure. With such a big wine, this definitely needs a side order of a chunky steak, or a lot of cheese (which our guests, rather unsurprisingly, very quickly polished off that night!). At $900, this is a steal!
Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
82% Cabernet and 15% Merlot, followed by Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. Firm, ripe, powerful, there is good rusticity to this wine, but it is by far too young to be drunk right now. The fruit is very restrained, but you can feel the heat of the alcohol and the hidden fruit slowly emerges after a few minutes in the glass. Cassis, licorice, capsicum and a hint of eucalyptus, this is very typical Napa in its power, intensity and jamminess. But overall, an excellent wine given the relatively low price of $900.
PlumpJack Estate Reserve 2004
Quite the beast, this is a 100% Cabernet aged in 100% new French oak for 27 months. Overall a good wine, though perhaps the alcohol hasn’t quite integrated with the wine yet. Full-bodied, very powerful, rich and spicy, and not for the feint-hearted, this definitely needs a lot more time to show its best.
Quilceda Creek 2004
Outside of California is Quilceda Creek from Washington State, hailed as the State’s premier Cabernet producer by Robert Parker. Rustic and old world in style, it has a rich, creamy palate with elegant structure coating your palate with fine grained tannins. Good concentration of fruit is balanced with lovely acidity.
An eagerly anticipated wine, this is 95% Cabernet with 5% Petit Verdot. Full-bodied, powerful, but at the same time there is a nice sweet softness to the tannins, and the wine just renders itself very elegantly. Good acidity, balanced tannins, and almost quite easy to drink, showing notes of forest floor, cedar, black currants and cassis. After 5-10 mins in the glass, the once restrained fruit is finally released and reveals a beautiful bouquet. Forget and revisit this later!
Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
We thought Plumpjack was a beast, but turns out, this trumps even that. As soon as the wine hits your palate, you are greeted with extremely dense, raw power. The alcohol is high, and everything needs integrating but this is beautiful wine and unsurprisingly turned out to the favourite of the night. Warning, decant first before drinking!
Kapcsandy Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Ending the night with the Kapscandy, a blend of 95% Cabernet, and the rest Merlot. With a hit of umami to the nose, but on the palate this smell quickly dissipated. So incredibly young and in need of so much more time, the wine shows great density and body with a stunning fruit structure that makes it a little difficult and restrained to approach right about now. But time will reward those patience to keep this for so long!