Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Winecology: Blind CA Cabernet Tasting

In an effort to pass oenophile puberty, I have been sampling many old and new world Cabs lately. However, despite my best intentions (not to mention budget constraints), I just haven't been exposed to the high end of California Cabernet. I read and hear a lot about the chest-thumping cult wines and big daddies scored 95+ by Parker. But generally speaking names like Heitz, Rudd and Caymus have escaped me.

My luck changed last night. I attended a blind tasting of 30-odd California Cabernets, where there were more than a handful of these BIG wines on hand. Most of the wines were of the mid to upper tier in quality/price. All were young - an occasional '99 - but mostly of the 2000, 2001 and 2002 vintages. After reviewing my notes and looking at the who's who line-up of wines, I was surprised by a couple of observations.

  1. On a whole, the Cabs weren't nearly as big and extracted as I had expected.
  2. The level of consistency (or more critically speaking - homogeny) was very high across the tasting.
I'm guessing that both of these points would be less pronounced (a) after some aging, (b) with proper decanting and (c) had some good eats accompanied these food-friendly west coasters. I've written up a few of my tasting notes based upon what I really enjoyed and what surprised me the most.

Tom Eddy Cabernet, Napa Valley, CA 1999
A tie for my favorite of the tasting. A fragrant nose of creme de cassis and smoke. Rich gushing dark cherry and blueberry flavors on the palette. Creamy, smooth underlying tannins with a gentle bite. Bob Hope-like long finish.
Rating - 9.5/10 out of 10
Price - $90

White Cottage 'Risa', Napa Valley, CA 2001
The other favorite of the night. A vanilla inspired nose. Very forward cherry and raspberry fruit flavors on the palette. Notes of pepper in the 'A-plus' finish. Concentrated, yet silky tannins. Plenty of bang for the buck.
Rating - 9.5/10 out of 10
Price - $40

BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve, Napa Valley, CA 2001
The famous and storied BV showed well. Tannins formed a solid underlying structure - it felt like one of the biggest wines of the night. Aromas of cedar and smoke were intermixed with ripe fruits - plum and cassis. Cocoa notes on the extended finish.
Rating - 8.5/9 out of 10
Price - $72

Pine Ridge Cabernet, Stag's Leap District, CA 2001
Attractive on the nose with fruit and earthy aromas. The body was velvety as tannins already appear to be in balance. Fig flavors were pronounced. A slight zip on the finish made this effort stand out in my mind.
Rating - 8.5/9 out of 10
Price - $68

Regusci Cabernet, Stag's Leap District, CA 2001
Sweet vanilla, oak and mocha aromas. On the palette sexy smooth texture coats the mouth. Dark fruit with herbs and white pepper on the medium length finish. All the elements are well balanced in this straight forward wine. Great QPR.
Rating - 8.5/9 out of 10
Price - $27

Edge Cabernet, Napa Valley, CA 2002
Just plain good. Anise and vanilla cream on the nose. A simple body with jammy concentration. Lots of dark fruit, coffee and toasty flavors in the mouth. A modest finish. Another fantastic QPR.
Rating - 8.5 out of 10
Price - $18

Rudd Cabernet, Oakville, CA 2001
My notes verbatim: "Understated nose", "Easy to drink", "Light and pleasant". Straight forward dark fruits with a touch of oak. Coffee and chocolate on the finish. A decent wine, but miserable QPR.
Rating - 8.0 out of 10
Price - $90

Caymus Cabernet, Napa Valley, CA 2002
A faint nose of dark fruits. Totally vegetal on the palette. My notes read - "attack of the killer mushrooms". Ouch. Medium length finish tasted bittersweet. Once revealed, a let down. Probably too young to enjoy, but disappointing none the less. Given Caymus' acclaim, I'd like to retaste another bottle.
Rating - 6.5(?) out of 10

Price - $60