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CLONYC 2 Joseph Phelps Insignia Vertical Tasting

 Joseph Phelps Insignia Vertical Tasting

Tasting Notes


All notes by Ben Sherwin

This is California?
Clearly the weakest of the 4 flights, these wines had a Bordeaux feel to them.
  • 1991 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    An exquisite wine. The nose was very restrained at first but opened up beautifully and became more expressive as the evening wore on. Herbal, earthy gave way to plums and truffle. The whole wine came into much more focus with some air time. A herbs, cedar and sour cherry flavors were well balanced with a bright acidity. It really grew in the glass. Great structure and complexity. Not nearly as big as I expected. WOTF.
  • 1992 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Pretty shut down with very little on the nose. Various attempts at resuscitation by vigorous swirling revealed a little, but not much. Tannins mask a core band of fruit that never really took off. Clipped and slightly astringent on the finish. It was the little engine that couldn't.
  • 1993 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Not terribly expressive nose of cedar and black cherry. More tar and leather than fruit in the mouth. Supple on the midpalate, but then a bit astringent on the finish. It wasn't quite all that bad, but it wasn't particularly good either.
Now We're Rolling
There seems to be a sea change with the '95 from an Old World style to the classic California profile.
  • 1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    This could have used some decanting. Tightly wound, it took a while to open up and show anything. Slightly off-putting nose at first (sulphur?) that blew off after a while. Revealed classic Cabernet notes (currant, tobacco, cedar) but never really got going to where I expected to go. I think this needs more time for the tannins to resolve and show off. I also think this suffered by the format and by being next to the '95 and '96. A step up from the '92 and '93 though. Ultimately, it left me puzzled and a bit disappointed given the hype on this one. Some thought this bottle was flawed.
  • 1995 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    The first WOW wine of the tasting. Deep, dark and brooding. The fruit jumps out of the glass here-very California. Young and vibrant, this one had a dense, complex core of fruit (blueberry, blackberry), as well as secondary notes of cedar and tobacco. If I had to pick a hole in this one it is that the finish wasn't as extraordinary as the rest of the experience. Still, a phenomenal wine. Drink now, drink later. Tied for WOTF. WOTN.
  • 1996 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    I loved this wine. Real primary at this stage it began with notes of prune and oak but soon exploded with vibrant, young fruit (cherry, raspberry!). The oak is clearly there, but well integrated already and will improve. Great earthiness to this one as well. This will benefit with a bit more bottle time. The surprise wine of the evening given the reviews. Tied with '95 for WOTF.
Opulence and Structure Surrounding a Weakling
The '98 really sticks out like a sore thumb between these two beauties.
  • 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Phenomenal wine. Dark, super rich and concentrated. Ripe, plush black fruits that come in wave after wave. Hints of vanilla, espresso and herbs and, after a bit, I picked up some crushed mint as well. Sweet tannins that are fully resolved. How long was the finish? I'll tell you when it ends. A real blockbuster of a wine. I'm not sure how this is going to look in 10 years, but who cares when it is drinking so well now. WOTF. My WOTN.
  • 1998 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    The poor '98. Sandwiched between the '97 and '99 it really looked like a loser. Still, for a '98, it was pretty good. Cherries on the nose and that's really the lasting impression here. Someone said cough syrup but I don't think it was that bad, but it was a little sweet on the entry. Maybe I've got Zin on the brain, but I thought it tasted like a old, Claret-like Zinfandel with a little bramble fruit and spiciness (which precipitated odd looks from those around me). To complete the trifecta here, it was also a bit astringent on the finish. I think there was general consensus that this was the worst wine on the night.
  • 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Where the '97 was all about "drink me" fruit, the '99 was all about backbone. Tightly wound with a dense core of currant, black cherry, anise and cedar. Nicely structured, with firm acidity and chalky tannins. It was not unpleasant to drink now (an understatement), but the grip really masks the complexity of the fruit and shortens the finish. A young blockbuster built to age, I thought this was kind of a throw-back to the finesse of the '91.
Flight of the Flights
The '00 is pretty good for the vintage, but the '01 and '02 are a great yin and yang that will be drunk and compared for years
  • 2000 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    This is a nice wine. A good job for a bad vintage, but it's really nothing to write home about. Smooth on the entry it fades a little on the finish. Good fruit, but not much of it. Crushed mint. Solid if unspectacular.
  • 2001 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Tightly wound beast, this is wonderfully put together and could eventually be the best of the lot. Densely packed fruit (plum, blackberry, sour cherry) with notes of cedar, leather and mint. Great balance-powerful but elegant. Long finish. It should be cellared now to let the tannins resolve but this is a great wine. Tied for WOTF.
  • 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Believe the hype. The '02 was a wonderful marriage of the structure of the '99 and the fruit of the '97. Still young and grippy, the nose was nonetheless crawling out of the glass. It really ate up the air (it was decanted) and showed complex, layered fruit framed by vanilla, anise and smoke. Wonderfully long finish that spread out beautifully. I really feel that this is a profound wine that will last for 20+ years in fine form. Tied for WOTF. My #2 of the night (with the thought that it will someday be better than the '97).



CLONYC #2 - The Insignia Vertical Tasting

First of all I want to thank everyone for being part of this amazing tasting. As Cheryl mentioned, the company was great. The converstaion and bantor was fun. I even tried to vote twice for the '96, but the group would not have it. I only wish it were a big round table. I like being within earshot of everyone. The long tables are tough. My complaining ends there! I want to thank Holt for giving us the oppurtunity to have a complete vertical, even with his being unable to make it. He offered up at cost his '97 and '98.

A great group you all are! Primarily it's the people who make the night. Then the wine and food.

Speaking of which. The food was great. Zoe did an impeccable job on service and presentaion. I did micro-manage a bit (a real tiny bit), and they handled it well.

And now the wines. A wonderful slice of this great prop. blend follows.

'91 Opened with old Cab qualities, dried fruit, sulphur? An decent wine and interesting to have it in the line-up and for the coming comparisons as we moved to the youngers wines. 87/100

'92 A little funky on the nose. On the palate there was an earthy-minerality that reminded me of an old Graves. There were traces red fruit. bit more tannins than the '91. 86/100

'93 This was my wine of the flight. It had good fruit, nice acid and smooth tannins. My only complaint was that it was a bit 'short'. Still no slouch! 90/100

'94 This one had some anteseptic qualities and maybe a touch of brett. I think it may be have ben flawed. not rated

'95 Full round mouthfeel. Great fruit with medium weight tannins Currant, cassis, and multi dimensional. I enjoyed this wine. 90/100

'96 To me this was the 'breakout' Insignia. New world Cab (Cab blend) style. Great balance. Beautiful dark fruit. Acid and tannins meshed to create an amazing long finish. Back the truck up. WOTF 92/100

'97 Great body, with a super mouthfeel. Nice dark fruit evident. I liked the length of this one. Still from all I have recently read about this wine I feel it did not show full potential. 91/100

'98 An interesting wine unto itself. One dimensional with nice med dark fruit. The thing about this wine was many felt as I did that served on its own would be a very nice wine, but we are known by the company we keep and there was some stiff competition in the room wine. 5 grape blend ( I believe). Possibly The best '98 I have ever had. 89/100

'99 Now we are talking. Great nose of truffles. An amazing fullness on the palate. Showed its breed. Good dark fruit. Nice balance. My wine of the flight. Glad I have some in my cellar. 92.5/100

'00 Another wine that reminded me of the '98. Great nose, good minerality, great red fruit/cherry. Very nice for the vintage. 89/100

'01 Fantastic. Smooth. Dark fruit, currant, mocha, dark cherry. I love this wine. Did I say fantastic? Easily my WOTF and WOTN. 94/100

'02 Oh, the ohtwo....... yes the ohtwo. This one was a bit closed. But understandable. It has the makings for a long lived wine. Great tannin/acid/fruit meshing happening here. Smooth full mouthfeell. I guess everyone wants to see what the fuss is here. WS Wine of the year and all. Makes me wonder. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful wine, but NOT wine of the year. 91/100

Jim hit the nail on the head here "It was interesting to see Insignia change from a more Bordeaux styled wine from 1991 to 1995, then to a Bordeaux Cali blend and then in 2002 to a more riper style"

My note taking leaves something to be desired. More like a summation.

Thank you again Cheryl, Nano, Ben, Jeff, Cindy, Jeff, Gary, Kevin, Dan, Jim, and Greg.