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08.14.2007

Top 2004 Napa Cabernet: Tasting at the Napa Wine Library

There are very few times during the year when the ordinary public has an opportunity to taste a large cross section of the wines from Napa, and most of those occasions are quite expensive. One of the least expensive, and most pleasant is the Napa Valley Wine Library tasting, which took place this past Sunday on the grounds of the Silverado Resort and Country Club in Napa.

The Napa Wine Library is http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/napa_wine_library_07-thumb.jpgjust that: a library about wine, which provides the public, as well as its supporting members, access to a significant collection of books and literature about all things wine. Housed in the St. Helena public library, and maintained by donations and dues from members, the Wine Library is a unique resource for Napa Residents. They also happen to put on several events every year for their members, one of which is an annual tasting of wines around a certain theme. This year was Cabernet and it's related varietals, so spread beneath the old oaks in the middle of the Silverado golf course, over 100 Napa wineries poured their most recent release of Cabernet (or occasionally other varietals) to an appreciative crowd.

Apart from the fact that the crackers and bread ran out well in advance of the cheese supply, one could hardly ask for a better wine tasting afternoon. The weather was perfect (though some wineries who happened to be caught in the rays of the afternoon sun had their bottled heating up rather quickly), and the vibe was mellow, with mostly winery owners or winemakers doing the pouring.

Maybe it was the library focus, or maybe it was the country club, but the crowd skewed significantly older than pretty much any other public tasting I've been to in some time. There was a lot of white hair in the sea of enthusiastic wine lovers.

Unfortunately the tasting only lasted two hours, which was pretty tight for someone who wanted to taste all 130 or so wines, but I did my best. A few wineries ran out before I got there, but I did manage to taste nearly everything, so enjoy my notes below.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2004 Blackbird Vineyards Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa. $80
2004 Ehlers Estate "1886" Bordeaux Blend, St. Helena, Napa. $75
2004 Lang & Reed "Right Bank" Bordeaux Blend, Napa. $80
2004 Neal Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa. $90
2004 Robert Foley Vineyards "Claret" Bordeaux Blend, Napa. $130

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 and 9.5
2004 Calafia Cellars "Calafia" Bordeaux Blend, St. Helena, Napa. $40
2004 Carter Cellars Merlot, Napa. $95
2003 Corison "Kronos Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $98
2004 Forman Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $75
2004 Grgich Hills Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa. $135
2003 Hartwell Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa. $115
2004 HdV Wines "La Belle Cousin" Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Carneros, Napa. $60
2004 Jocelyn Lonen "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa. $60
2004 Jocelyn Lonen "Founder's Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa. $85
2001 Moss Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $75
2004 Pina Cellars "Buckeye Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa. $72
2004 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $66
2005 Reverie on Diamond Mountain Cabernet Franc, Diamond Mountain, Napa. $60
2004 Spottswoode Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $110
2002 Spring Mountain Vineyards "Elivette" Bordeaux Blend, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $90
2004 Vin Roc Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa. $90
2004 Vinoce Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $60


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2005 Barnett Vineyards Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $45
2004 Bialla Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa. $93
2004 Cain Vineyard and Winery "Concept" Bordeaux Blend, Napa. $60
2006 Casa Nuestra Rosado of Cabernet and Merlot, St. Helena, Napa. $23
2004 Casa Nuestra Meritage, St. Helena, Napa. $45
2004 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga (pending), Napa. $45
2004 Crane Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa. $44
2004 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $74
2002 Elan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa. $50
2004 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $50
2005 Heitz Wine Cellars Petite Verdot, St. Helena, Napa. $35
2004 Hendry "Hendry Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Tulocay, Napa. $55
2004 Jocelyn Lonen Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa. $35
2004 Miner Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa. $65
2004 Moss Creek Cabernet Franc, Napa. $36
2004 Newton Vineyards "The Puzzle" Bordeaux Blend, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $70
2003 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa. $75
2004 Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $52
2004 Shafer Vineyards "One Pont Five" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa. $65
2003 Spring Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $80
2003 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa. $40
2004 Swanson Vineyards and Winery "Alexis" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa. $75
2004 Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa. $56
2003 White Rock Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $52
2003 Whitehall Lane "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $75


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 and 9
2004 Baldacci Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa. $35
2004 Barnett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $65
2002 Bighorn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Tulocay, Napa. $40
2002 Broman Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $48
2004 Burgess Cellars Bordeaux Blend, Napa. $30
2004 Casa Nuestra Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $55
2005 Casa Nuestra Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $55
2004 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa. $26
2003 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa. $62
2004 Cloud View Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $65
2004 Cuvaison Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2004 Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $60
2005 Envy Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $80
2004 Hall Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $40
2004 Keenan Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $50
2004 Monticello Vineyards "State Lane Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa. $55
2003 Monticello Vineyards "Corley Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa. $55
2004 O'Brien Estate "Seduction Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa. $35
2005 Reverie on Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain, Napa. $50
2004 Robert Sinskey "Vandal Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Carneros, Napa. $40
2003 Rocca Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa. $75
2004 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $36
2004 Saddleback Cellars Merlot, Napa. $36
2003 Terra Valentine "Marriage" Bordeaux Blend, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $75
2004 White Cottage Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa. $65

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2004 Arns Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $75
2002 Astrale e Terra "Arcturus" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa. $39
2004 Buehler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $36
2003 Ceja Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $40
2004 Chateau Potelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $60
2003 Crane Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa. $44
2003 Fife Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa. $50
2004 Frazier Cabernet Sauvignon, Tulocay, Napa. $55
2004 Gustavo Thrace Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa. $45
2001 Judd's Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa. $75
2004 Lamborn Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa. $85
2001 Madonna Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Carneros, Napa. $34
2003 Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa. $58
2003 Robert Pecota "Kara's Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga (pending), Napa. $40
2004 Seavey Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $85
2004 Seps Estate, Storybook Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga (pending), Napa. $65
2004 St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $35
2004 Sullivan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa. $100
2004 The Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa. $48
2004 Truchard Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Carneros, Napa. $35
2003 Vincent Arroyo Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga (pending), Napa. $50
2004 ZD Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $50


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 and 8.5
2004 Folie á Deux Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $20
2004 Freemark Abbey "Bouschet Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa. $65
2003 Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $39
2004 Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa. $60
2004 Signorello Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Tulocay, Napa. $45
2004 Trinchero Family Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $40
2004 Venge Vineyards Merlot, Oakville, Napa. $46


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8 or BELOW
2005 Boyd Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa. $34
2004 Hope and Grace Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $48
2000 Madonna Estate "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Carneros, Napa. $45
2004 Markham Vineyards Merlot, Napa. $26
2005 Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa. $25
2005 Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $15
2005 Snowden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $65
2004 Summers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga (pending), Napa. $45
2004 Trefethen Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa. $45
2004 Trefethen Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Franc, Oak Knoll District, Napa. $35
2004 Wing Canyon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa. $45
2004 V. Sattui "Morisoli Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa. $55

Comments (12)

malcolm wrote:
08.15.07 at 5:48 AM

Alder,
Speaking from a London perspective I can only say that your list rather confirms my personal view of Californian wines - that they are pretty much split in two camps.

There is the mass produced E&J Gallo type wine that sells in the supermarkets and then the smaller producers you feature here whose wines are produced in small quantities to sell for high prices.

Looking at your list there are only a few wines selling at less than $40. Now I am sure that the arguments can be made for these prices (cost of land in Napa, cost of storing the wines and the simple "this is what people are willing to pay") and I guess that these producers are showing their top-end wines at this event but the prices seem generally high compared to quality Cabs available from elsewhere in the world.

Once you add in the high costs of shipping to the UK from California it is easy to see why so few good California producers have UK agents. The problem being that at the prices your producers are charging the quantities sold in the UK will be small. Small quantities mean high shipping charges (and it does seem very expensive to get wine from the winery to the port in California) which adds to the problem. British importers are therefore limited to those wineries which can produce both good wines and good cheap wine for the mass market (which limits the number of producers to choose from even more). Groupage is a possible option but, again, is more expensive than straight shipping.

The Napa cabs (and indeed cabs from elsewhere in California) I have tasted have been good examples of their style but in so many cases the quality just does not seem to compare to the price charged.

And this is before the "are American wines over-extracted?" debate!

Ted wrote:
08.15.07 at 9:58 AM

Alder- I agree that the entire local retired set showed up at the library tasting(quite a few arriving in golf carts). I didn't really think about it till you mentioned it.

I think you were a bit generous in scoring the Montelena but otherwise really enjoyed reading your opinions.
I was most impressed with the Vinoce.

Russ wrote:
08.16.07 at 10:54 AM

For a different London perspective, see Steven Spurrier's article in the most recent Decanter.

Chris wrote:
08.16.07 at 12:57 PM

Just wanted to say thanks, because I learned of this event through your blog.

Definitely an older crowd there, but being in my mid twenties, I'm always on the younger end of the tasting spectrum. While I didn't manage to taste nearly as many wines as you did, our notes on many are comparable.

I just picked up a couple of bottles of the Calafia as it was one of my favorites, particularly when you consider that $40 price point. I'm glad I wasn't alone in scoring this wine well. I also particularly liked the Blackbird, Bialla, and Pina.

One that stands out is that I went lower than you on the Grgich. While it was certainly a well made wine that should age nicely, it just didn't wow me enough to justify $135.

Keep up the good work!

Jack wrote:
08.16.07 at 1:53 PM

Malcolm, you say "Once you add in the high costs of shipping to the UK from California"

Um, there are no high costs for shipping. It's less than 2£ per case. But yes, the UK has a very poor selection of Napa reds...you certainly can't judge US wine by what you find in UK supermarkets and pubs.

(We purposefully send you all our crap wine ever since your country passed the law requiring wine writers in the UK to have the ", M.W." after their names.)

Malcolm wrote:
08.17.07 at 5:37 AM

Jack,
To get to £2 per case you have to import fairly large quantities of wine (which leads me back to the requirement to find a producer who can not only produce small quantities of top quality wine but can also produce large quantities of good quality wines - in order to try and get economies of scale).

Add in CCT (£0.50 per 6 bottles) and delivery to the UK warehouse, plus storage costs while the wine is sold and you are talking a fair whack.

The problem is of course that the net effect of these cumulative costs is that the retail price of a bottle of Californian wine starts at around £8 (if you ignore the Blossom Hill and Gallo supermarket offerings) and rapidly moves North from there.

This is a good pound or two more than Australia or NZ offerings of equivalent quality in a market that is very cost sensitive. To start an agency based solely upon wines with an RSP of £30 or more from scratch would be very difficult (largely because the costs - not just shipping but everything else - compared to the volumes make it difficult to justify economically). I suppose one could set up as a Californian specialist and groupage - but one would then have the marketing headache of introducing a number of new wines to the UK market at once.

I saw Steven Spurrier's piece in Decanter and noticed how many of the wineries lacked a UK agent and would suggest that this (and the high basic cost of the wine) is the reason.

Malcolm

malcolm wrote:
08.17.07 at 6:27 AM

Jack,
Also £2 is twice the shipping cost from Australia and more than twice the cost of shipping from South Africa (with equivalent volumes of wine).

I am not sure how our shipping figure is made up but the last time it came up in conversation it was mentioned that it cost as much to truck the wine from Napa to Oakland as it cost to ship the wine from Oakland to Felixstowe in England.

Obviously Gallo ship so much they can force a much lower price from their shipper, and for the super premium wines shipping cost is fairly irrelevant but for the wines in the £20+ category (which I would regard as premium wines from a marketing point of view) shipping cost is still an issue.

Malcolm

Homer S. wrote:
08.17.07 at 8:21 AM

Malcolm, I wasn't suggesting a single producer go in alone. Also, many small producers would be happy to make the delivery in their own trucks for little or no charge for their $40/btl (Sonoma) or $75 (Napa) wines.

Personally, I would do it like a Terry Theise/Skurnik company; someone selects wines from 30-50 Napa/Sonoma producers; brings them in twice a year or so, and markets/warehouses them all. An Alder Yarrow Selection.

Alder wrote:
08.17.07 at 9:38 AM

Malcolm,

I think it's really a shame that there isn't more Californian (or American, for that matter) wine available in Europe, if only just to let people experience the breadth that the US has to offer and to break down some of the unfounded stereotypes and misperceptions that exist in Europe about American and Californian wine.

Are you getting paid in US dollars over there in London, because if you're not, I would think that many of these wines would seem relatively inexpensive when the exchange rate were taken into account!

08.18.07 at 1:44 PM

The 2004 Napa Cabernet tasting described extensively, yet with concision, was the 45th Annual Tasting of the Napa Valley Wine Library Association. Many members have been coming since the 1970's and wouldn't miss it for the world. The Wine Library offered the first wine education classes in Napa Valley. Some of those teachers and their students now have wineries of their own.

tom merle wrote:
08.18.07 at 3:13 PM

It would appear that more than the Usual Suspects are finding their way onto shelves, wine lists and British eCommerce sites. Sure only a smattering. But here are some more limited production wines I found by googling a bit:

Domaine de la Terre Rouge (Sierra Foothills)
Qup
Au Bon Climat
Ridge
Joseph Phelps
Andrew Will
Alban
Atalon
Far Niente
Murrieta's Well
Joseph Swan
Seghesio
Hirsh
Littorai
Bell
Bogle
Luna
Heitz
Shafer
Tor Kenward
Peter Michael
Ceago
Schramsberg
Fisher
Williams Selyem
Oh, and some Screaming eagle for mere 1900 pounds.

And consider that according to U.K. retail statistics, U.S. Wines grew by value 8 % off premise and 18% by value on premise. The growth in volume at off premise was greater than any other major country and amounts to a market share of 16 % compared to France at `6.4%. Australia leads at 22.3% in marke share volume bu grew only 4.2% in 2006. And yes, most of this growth are the corporate brands.

Also many CA wineries are beginning to ship finished wines to Europe in bladders--as Jefferson did from France--for bottling and distribution in othe EU member states in order to reduce the freight costs of shipping bottles.

TOM

malcolm wrote:
08.20.07 at 2:55 AM

Tom,
Try looking for American wines at Tesco (they have a website) and you will see that what is being sold is largely Paul Masson carafes for £3.50 a bottle (given the nature of British tax laws I shudder to think how much Paul Masson are being paid for this stuff, although having been given some Canyon Road chardonnay last week I would say whatever they are paid is too much).

I would suggest that the weedy US dollar is the main reason for big growth. Tesco can screw the American producers on price while translating their sales into the stronger Sterling. The Gallo wines are aimed squarely at the average British consumer (who spends less than £4 per bottle).

Most of the other wines are probably listed on sites such as Everywine.co.uk or small specialists. Berry Brothers (who is not small in UK terms) has about six California wines on its list.

I would agree you can find good Californian wines in the UK (I am a fan of Seghesio myself - but the only place I can find any is in a small specialist) - Waitrose lists Duckhorn S/B 04 at £16.62, the Duckhorn Merlot 04 at £33.25, Le Cutrer Chardonnay 05 for £16.14, and La Crema P/N 05 on their website (if you buy a case of 12). Now Waitrose probably has the best list of any supermarket and the bulk of the 22 wines they list from California is Sutter Home etc. I will have to look at my local Waitrose to see what actually makes it into the supermarkets (what is listed on their site does not make it to every supermarket).

I am not denying that it is possible for an individual to start a business that imports good Californian wines to sell on a retail basis but from an agency perspective California is probably not as difficult as Germany / Austria and Alsace but is a toughie.

Malcolm

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