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Wine Tasting - Mature California Cabernets

In April, we held the third of what we expect will be an ongoing series of wine tastings. We started with a small group of just six couples interested in wine but with varying levels of wine knowledge -- 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

In our third gathering, we forced ourselves to consider the mysteries of mature cabernet sauvignon wines from California; the rules were that the wine must be from the 1990 vintage or older. The wines were opened roughly thirty minutes before tasting and were not decanted. The wines were tasted blind. We gave each member of the party a simple scorecard so that they could make notes on what they thought of each wine. We also asked everyone to list their #1 favorite, their #2 favorite, and their #3 favorite. The table below lists the wines in order of the consensus favorites. This was a fairly consistent tasting as two clear favorites were clearly separated from the rest.

Winery Vintage #1 #2 #3 Total Score(s) Comments
Duckhorn 1998 4 2 1 17 87, WS Full red color. Very fruity with hints of cloves, and lots of tannins. Great balance of fruit and depth -- smooth and delicious.

"This wine make me want to play the piano and recite a poem to my wife - candlelight, whipped cream, chocolate and cherries."

Oakford 1987 4   2 14   Still fruity with dried cherries and nuttiness. Maybe hints of rose petals. Very long, elegant finish with well-balanced tannins.
Duckhorn 1989   3   6   Nice red color. Cherries, bold and spicy. A full bodied wine with nice balance of tannins.
Heitz Cellars, Martha's Vineyard 1982   2 1 5   An older wine and a bit dried out although hints of pepper and cloves were noted. Gets better and less subtle as it warms up from cellar temperature.
Hess 1985     2 2 87, RP Mellow and a little musty but still a little fruit and hints of licorice. A bit light on the finish.
Conn Valley 1989   1   2 87, RP A little medicinal with a musty nose - a bit mousey or horsey. Some notes of coffee and blackberry.
Newton 1989     1 1   Hints of chocolate and flowers on the nose. Nice combination of of fruit and body. A little woody and tannic. Very long finish.

The consensus ranking was 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.

Click here to give us some ideas!

The most-liked mature wine of the tasting was a 1987 cabernet sauvignon from Oakford winery. However, the favorite wine of the tasting was a 1998 Duckhorn which was tasted as the last of the seven wines. This was a "ringer" to test whether the group could identify a new wine compared to wines that were at least twelve years old. The group did successfully identify the 1998 Duckhorn as the youngest wine -- five of our nine guessing members named it as the youngest. The other four all guessed the 1989 Duckhorn. Maybe there's something about the style of wine that keeps it young -- or maybe we stored the 1998 Duckhorn in a way that kept it seeming younger?

This led us to consider the hypothesis that a younger wine may have an intensity and sharpness in tannins that the older wines can't match. The older wines were clearly more mature and well-rounded -- mellower in their own way. Regardless, all of the wines were good and, in any normal circumstance, any of us would have been happy to have drunk these with our dinner.

Speaking of dinner, following the tasting, we pulled the cork on a lovely magnum of Mt. Eden cabernet sauvignon to go with our dinner menu:

bulletAppetizers: Lox and kippered salmon on toast
bulletSalad printaniere with golden beets
bulletGrillades de boeuf with béarnaise sauce
bulletFresh vegetables with portabello and shiitake mushrooms
bulletSmoked tomatoes
bulletTarte tatin with rosemary caramel sauce and caramel gelato

Next tasting - California cabernet maturity comparisons


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


Wine Enthusiast - Ultimate wine accessories site! The Wine Enthusiast is a great source of glassware, serving and preservation systems, in addition to self-contained wine cellars and other wine storage options. If you're not sure what you need, the company offers a list of 'Recommended' items that cover a wide range of needs through their home page.

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.
Corkscrews Corkscrews and cork pullers are essential tools. Wine Enthusiast has a wide variety of devices including the traditional Laguiole corkscrew to the smooth Rabbit Corkscrew leverpull types. Storing your wine doesn't have to be difficult. Wine Enthusiast offers everything from free standing wine cellars to wine racks and cooling systems that can be installed in a closet or a corner of the basement.   
Finally, for great deals, don't forget to check out the clearance items and the Wine Cellar Outlet Store areas.


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