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10.14.2007

1997 Colgin "Herb Lamb Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

There are several tiers of wines that can legitimately and confidently wear the name tag: HELLO MY NAME IS: Cult Napa Cabernet at any party they happen to attend. The top tier is populated by Screaming Eagle, a single wine that practically invented the phrase "cult Cabernet." Below the hysterically unattainable pricing and scarcity of the Eagle, however, there are several wines which clearly deserve the moniker, and which tend to get consumed a bit more often, if only because in doing so, a wine lover isn't drinking a the equivalent of a San Francisco monthly mortgage payment.

That's not to say I can really afford to own or drink a bottle of Colgin Cellars wine whenever I want to, but when colgin_herb_lamb97.jpgfriends offer the opportunity, I'm happy to take advantage of the opportunity.

Colgin Cellars was started in 1992 by Ann Barry Colgin, a fine art specialist who made her reputation and fortune in the fine art auction world, along with her (now ex) husband, Fred Schrader. During her career as an auction consultant and fine art broker, it's no surprise that she gained exposure to the collectible wines that so often are appreciated by the same connoisseurs of fine art. Colgin's passion for wine was nurtured along with her knowledge and reputation in the art world to a point where it was no longer enough to simply drink a great bottle with friends. And so, with the selectivity and discernment that marked her appreciation for the finest art in the world, Colgin set out to create one of the finest wine brands in the world. No mean feat, to be sure, but Colgin's success is undeniable no matter what criteria are used to measure it. From critical acclaim, to market prices, to the the devotion of collectors everywhere, Colgin wines are among the most sought after in Napa.

Just like fine art, great wine is a combination of raw materials, talent, and passion, and all three are collected in abundance at Colgin Cellars. The winery sources grapes from select sites in and around St. Helena, all of which are managed impeccably by one of Napa's most famous names in vineyard management (and winemaking), David Abreu. Wineries most often trade on the cachet of the names of their winemakers, but Abreu is one of a few select vineyard managers whose name seems to virtually guarantee a blockbuster product.

The winemaking team at Colgin has included superstars Helen Turley and Mark Aubert, but in February of this year the role of head winemaker was handed to the less well-known Allison Tauziet, who up until then had played the role of assistant winemaker under Aubert after joining the team in 2005. Tauziet, a graduate of U.C. Davis began her career as resident enologist, and then spent a solid five years as assistant winemaker, at the iconic Far Niente winery. In addition to Tauziet and the considerable winemaking expertise of Abreu, Colgin also employs consultant Alain Raynaud, a well known name in Bordeaux. Among other influences in the world of Bordeaux, Raynaud has served as winemaker for La Fleur De Gay and La Croix De Gay in Pomerol, Chateau Quinault in St. Emillion, and managed operations at Chateau Lascombes in Margaux.

This particular wine comes from the Herb Lamb Vineyard, a site for which Colgin has had a long-term growing contract since her very first vintage. Owned by Jennifer and Herb Lamb, this 7.4 acre hillside that sweeps up the mountainside behind St. Helena. Originally a scrubby, forested patch of land, it has been massaged into terraced plots of Cabernet Sauvignon that were planted in the early 1990s, with some more recently replanted in 1999 and 2000. These northeast facing terraces benefit from the coolness of their elevation above the valley floor, but also from their generous sun exposure, making for very long, even growing periods that make Napa's hillside fruit some of the most sought-after (and expensive) in California.

This wine is the product of the spectacular 1997 vintage, which along with the 1994, was widely acknowledged (without any of the irony and cynicism that accompany such pronouncement these days) as one of the best in decades. A long growing season with warm but not scorching weather resulting not only in a perfect harvest but one in which crop levels were significantly higher than normal. The grapes for this wine were hand picked before sunrise and meticulously sorted cluster-by-cluster before going into the destemmer. The berries coming out of the destemmer were then sorted by hand again, with anything less than perfect berries being removed before the cold soak and extended maceration in stainless steel tanks. The wine was then put in French oak barrels to undergo its secondary (malolactic) fermentation over several weeks in a warmer-than-usual cellar, a technique which the estate believes adds complexity to the wine. After spending at least 18 months in barrel it is bottled without fining or filtration. Only about 150 cases of this wine are made each year, and I suspect that even fewer were made in 1997.

Tasting Notes:
A lightly cloudy medium ruby color with hints of orange at the edges, this wine has an entire forest in its nose, with a gorgeous bouquet of eucalyptus, mint, cedar, and pine aromas layered over a hint of smoky meat. In the mouth the wine is silky and sensuous in texture with flavors of mint, cherry, and black raspberry that are riddled with finely veined, dusty tannins. This is one of those wines for which, if you're not careful about paying attention to when you swallow, you cannot tell when the sensations in your mouth have moved from tasting the wine to tasting the finish. The wine has incredible length and presence in the mouth, remaining for minutes afterward with traces of sandalwood incense and, wait, is that joy that I'm tasting? It must be.

Food Pairing:
With a wine like this, I think it is best to just put it in your mouth, and close your eyes. Enough said. But if you actually had the presence of mind to be able to operate a fork after taking a sip of this wine, you might fill it with crispy pork belly.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $750 will get you a bottle from retailers.

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (10)

10.14.07 at 11:15 PM

$750 a bottle? This must be a joke, Alder. I can get a case of Clape Cornas for that, and get change! Preposterous.

Alder wrote:
10.15.07 at 8:18 AM

Steve,

Well, keep in mind that's the 1997 vintage. Not sure you could get a case of 1997 Clape Cornas with change for that price, but that doesn't change the basis of the sentiment. This is one of the most expensive wines in America, no questions about it. Its release price is in the $300s and it sells immediately on the street for about $400-$500 per bottle depending on the Parker rating.

David wrote:
10.15.07 at 8:29 AM

One should also look at the Colgin IX Estate wines - quite probably the best Syrah in California as well. In addition, these are Colgin "owned" vineyards which they control.

Lastly, if you like the Herb Lamb, you should check out the Cariad which may actually be a better and more consistent wine with somewhat higher (600 cases) production.

mph wrote:
10.15.07 at 12:47 PM

Thanks for this overview. I will sheepishly admit that I had always assumed that "Herb Lamb Vineyard" got its name from sheep grazing on herbs, or some dish involving sheep with herbs. You may have saved me some embarrassment.

Alder wrote:
10.15.07 at 1:18 PM

mph,

You're not alone. I always imagined it to be something along the same lines!

Sheepishly. I like that.

Alder wrote:
10.15.07 at 1:29 PM

David,

Thanks for the comments and the recommendations. I fear the only Colgin wines I'll be checking out in the future are ones that happen to be passed around at events I'm lucky enough to attend. Blogging doesn't pay that well, after all. But I'll keep my eye out for them.

Javier Marti wrote:
10.16.07 at 12:33 PM

Despite '97 was a great vintage, the know-how of the wine makers, the techniques used..... don't you think any wine beyond three digits has already stretched every possible quality improvement in wine making? From there on, marketing takes the lead. God bless good wines!

Alder wrote:
10.16.07 at 5:35 PM

Javier,

I didn't mean my comments to imply that 1997 was such a great year that it justified a higher price, only that this is a 10 year old library wine that we are talking about, that happens to be from a great vintage (and also happens to be rated 99 points by Parker). Which are all the reasons that it happens to be even more pricey than its normal very expensive release price.

You are correct, of course, that even sparing no expense in growing, making, bottling, etc. no wine actually costs so much to make that the $300+ dollars per bottle is necessary. The price is a function of a combination of branding, scarcity, and critical acclaim.

miffy wrote:
06.28.09 at 5:03 AM

my current restaurant which I am working now, featuring numerous of cult stuff from Napa, including Sine Qua Non, Araujo, Screaming Eagle('94 to '02), Bryant Family ('93 to '99), Grace Family, Harlan Estate, Colgin Cariad & Colgin 'Herb-crusted Lamb Rack' vineyard ('92 to '97). An Analysis that I just did & found out those guests who know about above wines wouldn't buy, however those who don't know about above wines but heard about the wines before, have a higher possibility to purchase.Share with you guys a recent story: A party of 4 Asian guests order a bottle of Screaming Eagle from me & wanted me to keep the wine chilled in an ice bucket. I was stun however follow his instruction as 'guest is always right'. After a few minutes I was told to serve the wine, he look at me after the first zip & said:' It's not cold enough, can you get us some ice cube for...' That's the moment I heard 'cling' 'clong' sound from the huge Riedel bordeaux gls as the gls was filled up with ice when they swirled. Well, I was wondering how many points would R.P. rate for this 'ice cold Shivering Eagle'?

John of Portland wrote:
01.01.11 at 11:35 AM

Regarding the so-called 'cult Cabernets' ...
Last night, New year's Eve from 2010 --> 2011, we had a friend over for rack of lamb. We dined at home before going to a concert, rather than negotiating the wonderful but crowded restaurant venues. However we also decided to treat ourselves exceptionally nicely, and so I opened a 2003 Abreu Thorevilos cab, which I had scored on their mailing list years ago.
This brings to mind the ancient discussion of whether a $400 wine is 10 times better than a $40 wine. Well, it obviously isn't; but that isn't the point. With apologies to Parker, whose comments I shamelessly steal, the point of drinking wines like these is to set and to learn benchmarks. This is what is possible if God, timing, the land, and wine imponderables all come together and smile on you. Well, they did.
This wine is deeply colored; dark, purple-black, viscous even in the glass. It looks more like a syrah than a cab. The nose fills the room: rich black fruit, cedar, molasses, and a trace of citrus.
Tasting this wine is a shock. I enjoy wine, I drink pretty good wine frequently, and very good wine every month or two. And then there is this ... This is just ... different. There is massive, mouth-filling density. This coats your upper innards in a moment. Black, sweet fruit (this is NOT a sweet wine at all!); cherries, overtones of strawberry. The extraction of fruit is intense, but this is not a fruit bomb. Long, long smooth tannin. Dust. A trace of aromatic transparency vaguely reminiscent of the Heitz eucalyptus. A finish that lasts a minute or more.
This wine is just bloody gorgeous. It reminds me of my little stash of 1997 Bryant, whichis forever my bucket benchmark cab, and which I occasionally open for major elections, medical graduations, or births. But this Thorevilos is other-worldly. I am cursed with sub-optimal "wine memory"-- I have to keep drinking good things to be reminded of them-- but the whole evening of lamb, concert, and New Year is eclipsed by how beautiful this creation was.
Would I spend $400 for this (at auction retail--I hesitate to think what it might go for in any restaurant's wine list!)? I don't know. It is an idle question-- we are not wealthy, and I am not accustomed to buying a wine like this for immediate consumption. But having bought this years ago, the moderate financial discomfort has evaporated, the wine has financially appreciated; but the timing was right. This simply breathtaking experience is why one occasionally drinks wine of this magnitude.

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