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The Great Cabernet Vintages of the Last 12 Years

The Great Cabernet Vintages of the Last 12 Years

On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, I hosted the first of a 3 class wine series called “The Great Cabernet Vintages of the Last 12 Years”. In my more than a decade of offering wine education classes, this was one of the most memorable. The basis of the class was highlighting the great Cabernet vintages from California: 97, 01, 02, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, and 09. This tasting was amazing! Every wine had two things in common: 1) The same grape variety and 2) each wine was from California. The difference was vintage which is the great variable in every wine. Was it a good one, great one or poor one? What makes a vintage great or poor? All these topics were discussed and tasted first hand. What we also determined was how these wines were ageing, were they ready to drink now, were they over the hill or not quite ready yet. The only way to make these determinations is by tasting. And that, we did.

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the few red grape varietals that can age gracefully when grown in a great appellation like Napa Valley or Bordeaux. As Cabernet ages, it begins to lose the fresh fruit characteristics such as cherry, blackberry and cassis and take on slightly earthy, more dried fruit characteristics. The rich tannins that are present in young Cabernets also begin to soften allowing the fruit to express itself more. The wines we tasted that evening were tasted blind, meaning nobody knew the producer/winery. All they knew was the vintage. This allowed everyone to focus solely on how the vintage was tasting. It also did not allow anyone to make pre-judgments on the wines which were especially important as several of the wines were from well-known producers.

Below are the wines that we tasted and tasting notes. We enjoyed these wines with three different dishes: Carpaccio of Filet Mignon, Ragu of Lamb and Pulled Beef Short Rib, all enhancing the flavors of the wines. Overall observations were that the older vintages were still developing and have proven to age gracefully and the wines were food friendly with this variety of dishes offered.

1. 2001 Stags Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
One of the most well-known producers, this wine possessed cedar box, earthy characteristics with dried cherry flavors. While most felt this wine was ready to drink, I did feel it could improve with 2-3 additional years of cellaring.

2. 2002 Caravina Seavey Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
One of the favorites of the tasting. This vintage was marked by rich and dense fruit and that was certainly the case with this wine. It still could improve with 3-5 years of additional cellaring.

3. 2004 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Perhaps the most known and recognized of the wines tasted, it was one of the least favorites. It possessed a softer style, was medium in body and had a fairly short finish. Although pleasant to drink, it lacked the concentration of most of the other wines.

4. 2005 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
From the family who produce Quintessa, a very reputable Bordeaux blend red from Rutherford, this wine was showing beautifully. Nice complexity and balance. This vintage was elegant and proved to be drinking earlier than expected. Perhaps not quite as cellar worthy as expected.

5. 2006 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
A beautifully made Napa Valley Cabernet from one of Napa’s top Cabernet producers, this wine was rich and complex with black fruit while possessing very mature tannins. Drinkable now but certainly able to age up to 7-10 years. One of the evening’s favorite wines.

6. 2007 Cedar Knoll Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
This was the most fruit forward wine of the evening. Rich, dense cassis flavors and soft tannin which was certainly aided by a touch of residual sugar. This was arguably the best vintage of the last 10 years.

7. 2008 Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
This was the only wine from the Alexander Valley, which produces a softer, slightly more feminine style. It was well balanced and very drinkable for a youthful wine.

8. Mystery Wine #2: 2009 Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
A current release wine, this was an example of a value Cabernet coming from one of the most coveted appellations in California. It was medium bodied with nice ripe, cherry and blackberry fruit.

9. Mystery Wine #2: 1997 M. Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
One of the real surprises of the evening. Given the fact that wines from this heralded vintage have peaked over the last 3-4 years, this wine was tasting beautifully, giving a ray of hope to some 97’s you may still have in your cellar.

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