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CLONYC #6 - Napa's Cultish Cabernets

Napa's Cultish Cabernets

All notes courtesy Ben Sherwin
A great event with some great wines. I love mature wines as much as the next guy, but there is nothing wrong with enjoying something bright and shiny. To say you can't love both is like saying you can't love soccer and football. Things linked at their core, but fundamentally different. So, 12 of us celebrated the greatness of Napa Cabernet the best way we know how...by drinking it. Missing were the big boys (Colgin, Harlan, Sloan, etc.), but I think we got a pretty damn good collection of wines if I do say so my damn self.
Thanks to Mike for organizing (as always). I'm not sure I've been to a more contentious tasting, but it was all in good fun. Thanks to everyone for bringing such great wines.We started with a...
2005 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Chardonnay Russian River Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River ValleyA nice example of RRV Chardonnay. Somewhat reticent on the nose with some white stone fruit and toast, but it really comes alive fruit-wise (peach and melon) on the palate. Decent acidity and a hint of minerality. Nice complexity through the midpalate with hints of exotic spice. The oak was tucked in pretty nicely, although it probably could use another year in the bottle.
...before starting in earnest.
A slow start
Nothing wrong with any of these wines, but none that really blew the doors off. Clearly the least favored flight of the night. For my money, the V29 was the clear stand out.
1994 Behrens & Hitchcock Cabernet Sauvignon Staglin - USA, California, Napa ValleyA nice Cabernet that I ultimately found a bit linear and lacking in complexity for a wine of this maturity. The nose was pleasant enough with some white flowers, blackcurrant and anise. Decent weight with a slight herbal quality on the midpalate that wasn't there on the nose. The tannins were fully resolved and while this probably has some life left, I doubt its going to get any better. Not a bad wine, just outclassed by the competition.
1995 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley, OakvilleI sense that this would have been a better wine to sit down to a meal with rather than sample at a tasting. The nose was quite prefumy with lots of cherry, herbs and anise. Unfortunately, I picked up a big dose of VA that really messed it up for me. I could see how others might think it was an elevating characteristic, but I found it off-putting. The midpalate was a little flat as the tannins have not released their chalky grip on this wine. My guess is that it could have used a quick decant.
1997 Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley, St. HelenaNow we're talking. A nicely made wine with clearly delineated varietal characteristics. Expressive nose of sweet, dark fruit, licorice and tobacco leaf. Smooth entry to a lush wine that shows off nice depth and concentration. Finishes long and complex with a little baking spice on the back end. Not a blockbuster, but a seamless soup to nuts effort. WOTF.
The Wines of Mark Herold
The flight of the night by a wide margin. The Meruses (Meri?) showed beautifully and the Kobalt really showed some great bang for the buck. The 2002 Merus was a revelation.
1999 Merus Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa ValleyA rich, dense wine that is one of the better wines I've had from this (not my favorite) vintage. Beautiful, exhuberant nose of cassis, black cherry, earth and leather with a sweetness that walks the right side of porty. Perhaps a soupçon of VA? Big, round and juicy in the mouth and, while fruit is the hallmark of this wine, it is framed admirably by an underlying acidity and ample tannin. I found it interesting that the wine showed well right away and didn't really change much in the glass. My guess is that it will plateau at this level for the next 5 or 6 years, although it's got the stuff to last at least another 10.
2002 Merus Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa ValleyA massive wine, with exceptional depth and breadth. Soaring nose of dark black fruit, toast and asian spices. Also hints of black licorice and a hint of pepper. Plush and sensuous it spreads out over the palate without losing its focus. While it had tremendous weight, it never feels heavy and maintains a surpising nimbleness. It possesses the impeccable structure and balance that you'd expect from Merus and that will carry this wine for a long, long time. This is only going to get better, but it's a WOW wine right now. Superb. WOTF and WOTN
2003 Kobalt Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa ValleyA nice effort from an uneven vintage. It doesn't knock your socks off, but more grows on you as it sits in the glass. Expressive nose of black and blue fruit, ample vanilla and bacon fat. This wine is absolutely packed on the palate. Assuming that it unwinds in an organized fashion, I think this will be even more impressive. The tannins are ripe and lack the harshness that makes this an uneven vintage. Good now, I think this a good one to lay down for a while, depending on whether you like your pleasures intellectual or visceral.
A Mixed Bag
I liked this flight better than others and this flight held the most disagreements about individual wines. Still, nothing to shake a stick at here.
2003 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley A young, stellar wine, it possesed an interesting, complex and evolving nose. It started out more on the salty, savory side with some notes of grilled meat, but some the red fruit picked up nuance of anise, chocolate and white truffle. It showed ample weight as the fruit turned darker on the palate and picked up some asian spice, always with the telltale chocolate. Still, for all the interesting elements, I didn't feel it was tightly knit together at this point. Decanted for almost 6 hours, it still evolved in the glass. I'm not sure if it knows what it wants to be yet and I'd definitely recommend holding for a long while. WOTF and 3rd place WOTN
2002 Blankiet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Paradise Hills Vineyard - USA, California, Napa ValleyA big powerhouse of a wine, this could have used some heavy duty decanting. Even so, it showed some nice spicy, savory black fruit with nice elements of white flowers and mocha on the nose. It is exceptionally tightly wound on the palate and if that solid core of fruit ever explodes, then look out. This wine was clearly built to last and I would keep my hands off for now.
N.V. ZD Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Abacus - USA, California, Napa ValleySolid and fairly seamless, the effortlessness it displays renders it somewhat unexciting. It just felt a little textbook next to some of the other wines. Still, it had nice complexity with deep black fruit, licorice and tobacco leaf. It was interesting to try a Cabernet solera.
Bringing It Home Strong
Not a bad way to finish off the night.
2002 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap DistrictIf it is possible to feel bad for a wine, I feel bad for this one. I've had it a couple of times and I think it really suffers for the albatross of the 100 point score. That's perfection, so it's almost like a gotcha trying to find flaws instead of enjoying it for what it is...an extraordinary wine. That said, I'm not sure of the value of opening this wine now, other than to track its evolution. I just find it to be a massive wall o' wine right now, not unlike tasting a young first growth (which is probably an apt comparison). An inch wide and a mile deep. Nonetheless, everything is there and one can't help admiring it for what it will be if what it is now is something less. Like watching a young Mozart. WOTF and 2nd place WOTN
2003 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon Cohn Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley, RutherfordAnother bruiser of a wine. The nose really jumps out and grabs you with deep, dark fruit fruit, espresso, licorice and toast. Tightly packed layers of fruit slowly open in the glass providing rich, chewy pleasure even to the most fatigued palate. Great concentration and wonderful focus for such a big wine. It will be interesting to see where this goes in terms of developing the more complex nuances for which we love Cabernet. A stellar first effort.
2004 Maybach Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Materium - USA, California, Napa Valley, OakvilleA bit out of its depth next to the HSS and Scarecrow, it is the nevertheless a classy, well-made effort. Not surprising for a wine this young, the oak is a bit fatiguing, but there are some really nice elements here. The nose is expressive if not explosive with black and blue fruit, white flowers and, yes, toasty oak. It picks up speed as it hits the mouth with black cherry, cassis and black plums nicely layers and easily delineated. The tannins are ripe and sweet and provide a nice lift to the mouthfeel. I'd give this some time. It has ample structure and is impeccably balanced to weight out some of the awkwardness that it shows at the moment. I don't think it will ever be a great wine, but I'm a fan.


CLONYC #6 - Cultish Cabernets

All notes courtesy MikeP

Thanks to everyone who was part of this. Bens comments about this being a contentious tasting is the understatement of the year. This was a raucous loud group with lots to say. But yes, fun was had by all. Leaving the pouring of wines to the individuals was tricky. More than once the bottle was dry by the 10th pour. (and Greg was not directly left of the shorted pouree all the time). I want to publicly offer a new CLONYC contract to Ben for his note taking. His notes are clear and concise. Reading them one not need to have been a part of the tasting to know what the wine tasted like. Well done Ben! It was nice to see old friends and make some new. The NY/CT crowd is awesome.

I have some impressions of my own on these wines;
1994 B&H- This initially seems flawed with v/a. There was some port like qualities that always put up a red flag to me, but some time gave the hint of a decent Cabernet. Additional time made it seem like v/a may have been the culprit. Synth cork not withstanding. Dump.
1995 Dalle Valle- This was flat and uninteresting. There seemed to be some v/a here as well. Didn’t improve, didn’t collapse, just didn’t. Dump
1997 Vineyard 29- Yes, now we are talking. Light in color but big on flavor. Great dark red cherries, this is a beautiful wine that is in a very great place. I think the company it was in may have been the reason it did not show well. Daniel P mentioned that this would have been perfect in the 2002 Blanket’s place…but who knew? Happy to have this on my table anyday.
1999 Merus- Initially a fantastic wine full of flowers (rose petals) crushed stone, blackberries and cassis. I think this wine is plateauing right now and in no danger of sliding anytime soon. This was a very early candidate for wotn, but then something strange happened; the 2002 Merus opened a bit and the Kobalt opened a lot. I never seen such a quality wine slide in favor so much in my life, and for no reason what-so-ever except for the company. My 4 for the evening.
2002 Merus- With youth on its side the 2002 was tightly wound and full of potential. This was an elegant wine with cassis, blackberries, tar, cocoa, and crème de cassis. I would not be disappointed if I had a half dozen in my cellar.
2003 Kobalt – Lush smooth and full of the qualities I expect in my better cabernets from a much better vintage, this was surely the new contender for WOTN. I love this wine and can only imagine the selection process used in 2003. A QPR Cultish Cabernet. My number 2 of the night.
2003 Switchback Ridge- Here we go. Afigginmazing. This had it all; Fantastic cassis, cola, anise, super dark cherries, and more. A purity that elevates it to the top of the previous group save for the Kobalt. My WOTN
2002 Blankiet- This was very 4 square and European in style. The tannins were hovering over everything else. The fruit was somewhere, just not in my glass. Needs much time.
ZD Abacus- Along with the Vnyd 29, this was overshadowed, but awesome. Great American oak(?) is the frontispiece. This was purple in color. Currant, cocoa, vanilla, dark berries, and some tar & leather. I really enjoyed this, but again, it was in a tough crowd.
2002 Shafer Hillside Select- Hmmm. I get why this gets its praise, I just don’t know what to make of it. The decant seemed enough. It had everything in a compact little space. The proverbial 5lb Bologna in a 2 lb bag so to speak. I sensed the oak and the fruit and the acid and the tannins, but sensing seemed not to be enough. Interesting to have it included. I can understand the 10-year rule imposed here.
2003 Scarecrow- I wanted to like this on hype alone, but time always reminds me my palate in not intuned with hype. Good. It was nice, but nice? Plenty to like here but Napa is full of wines that have plenty to like. Bottles you can actually get. Again, happy to have it in the group.
2004 Maybach- I seem to always be in the underdog crowd, but if drinking this was the underdog….bow bow. Sure its young, the youngest of the night. Sitting in my glass for 30 minutes it came alive. The elegance, the structure, and the beautiful fruit profile came roaring on. Given the year or so less bottle age difference its understandable the overall showing. Glad I have a 6 in my cellar. One wine to watch. My number 3 of the night, and that aint bad at all….(decanted 2.5 hours could have used 10)