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Wine Tasting - Mature California Cabernets

In June, we held the fourth of what has become an ongoing series of wine tasting parties. We started with a small group of just six couples interested in wine but with varying levels of wine knowledge ranging from almost none to considerable -- it was more important that we would have fun that really be able to identify the wines. The group was formed with the following guidelines:

We will have a blind tasting and casual dinner roughly every other month so that we rotate through the entire group once a year. The host couple may, at their discretion, invite more people to join the fun. The evening's host selects the theme for the evening such as: "Napa Cabernet under $50", "Single vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon", "'Second wines' of Bordeaux", "Australian Shiraz over $30", or whatever. Each couple brings one bottle that fits the theme. The labels are hidden with paper bags so that this becomes a blind tasting. Everyone tastes each wine before dinner and selects their top three wines so we can have a consensus favorite. At dinner, we can finish the tasting wines or raid the host's cellar assuming, of course, that the host consents. And we should have fun doing this.

Two books that we've used to guide our efforts are:

How to Taste: A Guide to Enjoying Wine by Jancis Robinson The Wine-Tasting Class Notebook: Expertise in 12 Tastings by Judy Ridgway

Click here to give us some ideas!

In our last gathering for mature California cabernets, the host for this evening was intrigued that the consensus favorite of the last tasting had not been one of the magnificent older wines -- but rather was a much younger wine. He wanted to test whether people could distinguish between old and young wines with a side-by-side comparison tasting of California cabernets. Accordingly, the ground rules this time was that each couple should bring two bottles of wine: one from 1995 or earlier and one from 1996 or later. In order to minimize differences of style for the side-by-side comparison, we were asked to bring each pair of wines from the same winery. We had a full complement of tasters this time (plus a guest couple) which meant that we had fourteen different wines to taste! With one exception, this particular tasting was almost entirely a Napa Valley wine tasting.

The wines were opened roughly 30-60 minutes before tasting and were not decanted. We gave each member of the party a simple scorecard so that they could make notes on what they thought of each wine. in addition to asking everyone to list their top three favorites (#1, #2, and #3), we also asked everyone to indicate, for each pair, which of the two wines was the older one. The wines were tasted blind so as not to needlessly influence people's votes for their favorites by the prestige of the label or to give away the age.

The table below lists the wines in order of the tasting -- the consensus top three are in red. This was a fairly consistent tasting as one clear favorite was clearly separated from the rest with both more votes cast as the #1 favorite and more votes overall than any other wine.

Winery Vintage Maturity Correct #1 #2 #3 Total

"Parker" Ratings

Jordan 1997


    1 1   Smooth but open. A little harsh and biting with some hints of raspberry or other berries.
Jordan 1995 11/13   1   2   Color is more orangey on the edges of the glass. Strong notes of cherry. More acidity and tannins than the 1997. More like a Bordeaux.
Mt. Eden 1991 9/13           Deep ruby color. Full-bodied in flavor with hints of cherry. Tannic and a bit rough/sour. Maybe over the hill?
Mt. Eden 1998 9/13     1 1   Flavor hints of licorice with plenty of tannins. Smoother, better balance than the 1991.
Joseph Phelps "Insignia" 1999 7/12 2 1   8 93 WA Color is very deep red -- even deeper than the 1994. Chocolate and cassis notes with balanced acidity. Very young with lots of fruit and tannins.
Joseph Phelps "Insignia" 1994 7/12 4 2 1 17 96 WA Very dark red color. Notes of chocolate and raspberry/blueberry with a long, mellow finish. A bit acidic.
Oakville Ranch 1995 12/12           Tannins were evident but smoothly integrated.
Newton 1994 12/12 1 2   7   Nice bouquet. Peppery with a little bit of chocolate on the finish.
Stag's Leap 1990 11/13 1   4 7 89 WA Tannins were evident but had a long, long finish after a fruity start. An older wine.
Stag's Leap 1984 11/13 1 2   7   Aroma is a bit musty and earthy but it opened up with a bit of air. Very smooth with notes of licorice and chocolate.
Casa Nuestra 1995 10/11           Nice but a little 'tangy' or peppery.
Casa Nuestra 1987 10/11   1   2   Notes of chocolate on an earthy, aged base. A bit flat or just 'off'.
Duckhorn 1999 6/9 1 2 1 8   More tannins that are well-integrated. Fruity, forward with notes of cherries. Smooth and full-bodied.
Duckhorn 1985


    2 2   Some notes of chocolate but almost too old. A little sour.
  1. We lost one of the scoresheets so only 13 were scored.

  2. With 14 wines to taste, some people got a bit, ahem, confused as the tasting went on. 9 of 13 scoresheets had all the maturity scores completed. Also, since it happens last, only 10 people remembered to vote on their consensus favorite.

  3. The consensus ranking is determined by 3 points for each #1 listing, 2 points for #2, and 1 point for #3. Any ties are broken by the number of #1 votes, etc.

  4. Both the Stag's Leap and the Casa Nuestra pairs broke the age guidelines -- both bottles were 1995 or older. There was still a significant age difference so this was insignificant.

  5. One couple brought a mixed pair of wines (Newton and Oakville Ranch) and each were 1995 or older.

The results were very interesting. On the question of whether our tasters could determine which wine of each pair was older, the results seem to be clear that we generally could distinguish the older wine.

bullet80% (66 of 83 possible complete votes) of the marked scoresheets were correct on the age comparisons between the wines.
bulletIn terms of correct scores, only one pair was judged correctly by everyone marking their results -- the Oakville Ranch and Newton pair. Although this could be due to people's acumen and good sense, it could also be that the wines were from two wineries and may have been made in a different style.
bullet No one got all seven wine pairs correct; the Mt. Eden, Insignia, and Duckhorn were the wines that most people got crossed up on.
bulletWe simply forgot to ask which of each pair of wines was preferred -- maybe we'll do that in another tasting...

Although some people forgot to vote at the end, the hands-down favorite of the tasting was the 1994 Joseph Phelps "Insignia". On the basis of having more #1 votes, the 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia barely edged out the 1999 Duckhorn. Both of the Stag's Leap wines and the 1994 Newton deserve honorable mentions as they were only one point behind.

Following the tasting, we polished off the rest of the wine in conjunction with our dinner. I'm sure that I've forgotten some of the details:

bulletAppetizers: Traditional antipasto plate with roasted peppers
bulletGreen salad
bulletVeal Marsala with a truffle (?) risotto
bulletChocolate cake

Next tasting - South American Red Wines


Other Wine Tastings

bulletDuckhorn Vertical from the 1980s
bulletWines from the Southern Rhone
bulletRed Wines of Piedmont
bulletMature California Cabernets -- 1990 and older
bulletCalifornia cabernet maturity comparisons
bulletSouth American Red Wines
bullet Red Wines of Washington State
bullet Anything with Sangiovese


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Wine glasses, decanters and more: Many choices are available including Riedel and Spiegelau crystal stemware and decanters. Plus, there are many products to clean and care for your glassware.   


Serving and preserve your wine, from the most elegant decanters to chillers, coasters, drip savers and more. When we want wine by the glass (when we don't think we'll finish a bottle), we use the WineKeeper which automatically fills the bottle with nitrogen to preserve the wine.
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Finally, for great deals, don't forget to check out the clearance items and the Wine Cellar Outlet Store areas.


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