Friday, February 13, 2009

A Grand Tasting of California Cabernets

Looking back over the past few years of tastings it is hard to believe that I have been the "ringleader" for our wine group - I mean, I never EVER win these tastings. Remember the old saying "even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut"? Well, in our blinded tastings my wines have been road kill.

Well, that's not really true - my Cesare Ornato was the best at the November tasting - at least I thought so, but I was unblinded so my self-proclaimed victory was hollow. But tonight was extra special because it was the real deal - a blinded, head to head cab-fest featuring some truly legendary California wines...and I won!

Ranked 1st or 2nd by two-thirds of the tasters, the 2003 Cardinale (86% Cabernet, Merlot) was obviously chosen by a sophisticated oenophile with a superior palate. A subtle nose, quite closed at first, later opening to reveal beautifully balanced violet, black pepper, leather and blackberries. But the nose was a pretty accessory to an astonishing palate - nice dense fruit and a very fine, velvety, long, long finish. It didn't jump out at us so much as it crept up and enveloped the group with incredible complexity and finesse. Did I mention that I won? Score: 18.5/20

There was considerable enthusiasm for Ash's 2002 Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, (100% Cabernet, organic) Ash adding to his string of successes since rejoining our wine group last year. A more interesting nose than the Cardinale, with flinty eucalyptus, violets, currants and black cherries, but just a touch jammy at the end of the night which pushed it into second place for me. Delicate, classy, and showing some age on the palate, a beautiful wine. Score: 18.5/20

There was little separation amongst the top 3 wines, with Lloyd's 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia (83% Cab, 14% Merlot, Petit Verdot) close behind the Cardinale and Heitz in the rankings. Black cherries and mushrooms on the nose, earthy/flinty notes as well, some mint - pretty, maybe simpler than some of the others. Very nicely balanced with a very, very long finish...elegance. Score: 18/20

Further back was Cam's 2003 Juslyn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Estate (85% Cabernet, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, Petit Verdot). Quite different from the others, with a lovely meaty nose, wet stones as well, a touch jammy and hot as the night wore on. A nice lengthy, meaty finish on the palate. Score: 17.5/20

Tied for fifth and sixth were Pramod's 2001 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Cosme's 2004 Peter Michael "Les Pavots". I quite liked the Montelena (Score: 17.5/20) - rubbery liquorice, black earth and white pepper on the nose, crisp cherry fruit and silky tannins on the palate, just a shorter finish than the greats above pushing it down a notch for me, but I liked it more than most the gang (I always love Chateau Montelena). The surprising result for me was the near last place finish for the Peter Michael (Score: 17/20), as the "Les Pavots" consistently wins accolades. Gobs of ripe, dark fruit on the nose, vanilla and violets as well. A very nice, long finish with dense tannins, just too fruity and too jammy for our group.

Unfortunately Chris' 2003 Neal Family Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate was corked - a shame, as there was such a nice velvety texture to the wine. I think each and every one of us has had a corker now.

So, if any of you start "Google-ing" these wines you will find that they are, for the most part, expensive and rare - a true who's who of California and a terrific flight to really get a sense of what it's like at the top ends of the price/quality spectra.

A terrific night! Many thanks to our hosts, Cosme and Rebecca (the tenderloin was a smashing idea).

Next up, IGT-fest!


Shea said...

I gotta try that Cardinale, I hear consistently good things about it. Too bad about the Neal - I have bene very curious about their stuff. Overall sounds like a ridiculous evening of goodness!

Joe said...

"A ridiculous evening of goodness" indeed! Sometimes our tastings come together so well. I had no idea a Neal would be there so I was very disappointed as well - I've had so few corkers out of California, but no doubt about this one.