The Legendary Wines of Napa: Tasting Notes

legends_sign.jpgLast weekend I had the singular pleasure of co-leading a tasting with the title Legends of Napa Valley. I wrote about my impressions of the tasting overall, and the lessons that it offered, such as they were, about the aging of Napa wines across the last five decades, as part of my monthly column for Jancis Robinson.

Now that I’m done editorializing, we can get down to the wines themselves. Below I offer my tasting notes for every wine that we tasted, in the order we tasted them. We tasted in four flights, two each day. The start of every flight featured at least one white wine, which you will see interspersed below at about every twentieth wine.

These eighty wines were quite a treat to taste. Did they encompass every legendary wine of Napa? Certainly not. Conspicuously absent were Dunn Vineyards Cabernet, Dominus, Turley Zinfandel, Futo Red Wine, and Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay, all of which I would have included had anyone bothered to ask me which wines should be on the list. I might have also included an older vintage of Keenan Cabernet as well. But there’s no sense in quibbling with the list at this point, it was what it was.

For those interested in labels, I’ve got a gallery of photos at the end of this post, in addition to those I’ve sprinkled into the tasting notes below.

Enjoy.

TASTING NOTES:

2001 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Late Disgorged
Pale gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples, toasted levain, and roasted hazelnuts. In the mouth a soft and velvety mousse delivers flavors of baked apples, buttered and salted toast, marzipan and wet stones. Harmonious and rich, with a hint of leesy flavors. Stunning. 100% Chardonnay. Dosage from the 2010 vintage. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10.

2004 Stony Hill Chardonnay
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of wonderful white flowers and delicate buttered sourdough toast. In the mouth, the wine is wonderfully silky, with a rich pastry cream quality and flavors of lemon curd, wet stones, and that floral note which reemerges on the finish. Lovely. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.

1976 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
Medium yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of marzipan and a hint of paraffin with dried pineapple notes. In the mouth, dried candied lemon peel flavors have a remarkable, bright juiciness with an extraordinary acidity still remaining. Mandarin orange zest and dried mango notes emerge in the finish. Tangy, juicy, and utterly compelling. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5.

2010 Grgich Hills Estate “Paris Tasting” Chardonnay
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of buttered sourdough toast with notes of lemon curd. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful saline quality, with floral and bright and juicy lemon curd with notes of wet stone. Excellent acidity and nice texture. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??. Not yet released.

1957 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir, Carneros
Light brick red in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, raisins, and brown sugar. In the mouth soft tannins provide a velvety backdrop to flavors of raisins, wet dirt, leather, and a bright citrus note that emerges towards the end of the finish. Still kicking at this age. Quite probably the first post-prohibition Pinot Noir made in what would come to be known as the Carneros region. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

1966 Charles Krug “Vintage Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon
Light orange-ruby in the glass with a progression towards brick at the rim, this wine smells of mint, cedar, chocolate, and forest floor. In the mouth, the wine still possesses wonderful acidity that brings to life bright dried cherry and cedar cigar box flavors. Faint, taut tannins and wonderful balance round out a wonderfully harmonious package, that is tasting quite well for it being a less than ideal vintage with a lot of rain. Aged for 29 months in French oak. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $175. click to buy.

1967 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon
Light ruby in the glass, heading towards brick at the rim, this wine smells of sweet prunes and cocoa powder. In the mouth, gorgeously smooth flavors of forest floor and cocoa lie dark and deep over the glowing coals of deep red fruit that still clearly show life. Gorgeous, long, and seamless, with great acidity. Fantastic. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $140. click to buy.

1968 Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour” Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of rich port-like prunes, brown sugar, and forest floor. In the mouth, rich forest floor flavors have an incredible red miso / umami quality that, along with the acidity makes the mouth water and makes you want to gulp this wine. Powdery tannins are faint, like the most delicate lace. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $275. click to buy.

1977 Beringer Vineyards “Private Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium to dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of dark chocolate and mint with an underlying deep rich fruit. In the mouth, rich, minty cedar and dried cherry flavors linger long and gorgeous. Fantastic acidity and beautiful lightly tacky tannins. Remarkable. This is the inaugural bottling of the Private Reserve. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5.

1978 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of licorice and forest floor. In the mouth, very grippy tannins wrap around a core of rich dark dried cherry and wet stony earth. Excellent acidity and wonderful balance. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

1978 Heitz Wine Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in the glass with a hint of brick at the rim, this wine smells of wet earth and eucalyptus. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful lightness to it, with flavors of cedar, wet earth, dried cherries, and a hint of citrus peel. Long, beautiful finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $220. click to buy.

1979 Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in the glass with a hint of brick at the rim, this wine smells of coffee and prunes and chocolate with notes of dried mushroom. In the mouth, tart sour cherry and quince flavors have a great acidic edge to them that makes the mouth water. The tannins in this wine are still somewhat aggressive and seem blocky, leaving the wine slightly awkward, but the flavors are undeniably delicious. Long finish. Roughly 50% of the fruit came from the To Kalon vineyard. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.

1979 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “S.L.V. Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon
Cloudy, inky dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of slightly meaty dark braised meat, prunes, and cedar. In the mouth gorgeously juicy and meaty cedar, cherry, licorice, and forest floor flavors have a remarkable dynamism. Stunningly delicious and almost legends-14.jpgcommanding in its presence, with powdery tannins that are very sensuous. Gorgeous.13% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10.

1983 Shafer Vineyards “Hillside Select” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of green fennel and cedar with a hint of citrus. In the mouth, bright cherry, leather, and wet stone flavors mix with taut tannins and a hint of green herbs. This is the first vintage of Hillside Select ever bottled. 12.7% alcohol. Score: around 9.

1986 Raymond “Private Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium to dark ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry, graphite, and wet stones. In the mouth the wine has a bright sweetness that transitions to a wonderful sour cherry quality that pervades the wine as forest floor notes and silky/powdery tannins linger in the long finish with notes of citrus. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

1990 Freemark Abbey “Bosche Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark ruby in the glass with a hint of orange at the rim, this wine smells of dark earthy leather with hints of herbs. In the mouth, soft velvety tannins wrap around a core of wet cedar, dried cherry, cinnamon, and leather. Wonderfully earthy notes linger in the finish. 82.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17.5% Merlot. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

1995 La Jota Vineyard Co. Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of dark mushroomy earth with interesting greenish fennel notes that are quite faint. In the mouth the wine tastes of rich dark cherry, earth, cocoa powder and dark espresso. The mushroom quality, which I believe to be brettanomyces, persists through the wine and ultimately to its detriment, but it is restrained enough to not spoil the experience. 14.1% alcohol. Both bottles available for the tasting were the same. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

1976 Joseph Phelps Insignia Proprietary Red Wine
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of farmyard and cherry and chocolate. In the mouth cherry and cedar and tobacco flavors all mix with just a hint of farmyard (likely brettanomyces) that thankfully doesn’t overwhelm the fruit. Lovely acidity and powdery but muscular tannins. Aged for 18 months in French Oak. 13.8% alcohol. Both bottles available for the tasting were the same. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $160. click to buy.

1979 Opus One Red Wine
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of forest floor, meats, cedar, red apple skin and citrus. In the mouth the wine has an effortless quality that is quite disarming. Citrus-peel brightness pervades a juicy dried cherry and tobacco core that is tinged with a wonderful herbal note that lingers through the finish. Gorgeously supple tannins and wonderful brightness. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Merlot. The label oddly does not contain any reference to its alcohol level. This is the inaugural vintage of this wine, and quite possibly the best bottle of it I have ever tasted. Bravo. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $700. click to buy.

2001 Trefethen Chardonnay, Carneros
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of bell pepper and wet stones with a hint of lemon zest. In the mouth, lemon zest and wet stones and zingy acidity. Linear, bright, zippy, and quite tight, with just a hint of honey on the finish. Lovely, and showing very little of its age, even after 11 years. Remarkable. I did not manage to record the alcohol level of the wine. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

1990 Duckhorn Vineyards “Three Palms Vineyard” Merlot
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, plum, and tobacco. In the mouth, dark cherry fruit with plummy notes is wrapped in very soft, nearly imperceptible tannins that seem to taste of cocoa powder. Wonderful acidity that brings a bright hint of citrus to the wine makes for a juicy and delicious mouthful. Hints of tobacco and cedar emerge on the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $89. click to buy.

1986 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of smoked meats, dried herbs, and leather. In the mouth deliciously juicy cherry and sour cherry flavors mix with a zingy, almost saline legends-25.jpgcitrusy note. Fantastic acidity and powdery faint tannins wrap around the core of fruit. Tasted out of magnum. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

1988 Clos Du Val “Reserve” Proprietary Red Wine, Stag’s Leap District
Medium to dark ruby with a hint of purple in color — remarkably youthful for its age — this wine smells of earth, and graphite and cigar box. In the mouth the wine is smooth and cool and stony, with cherry and red apple skin, cedar and tobacco in the finish. Fantastically juicy acidity has a citronella quality. Fabulous. Aged for 25 months in French oak. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Merlot. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5.

1992 Araujo “Eisele Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium to dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of gorgeously sweet cherry and tobacco aromas with hints of greenish herbs. In the mouth, this wine is incredibly juicy with flavors of cherry, wet earth and green herbs that have a depth and complexity that nearly bowls me over. The acidity is truly unbelievable and the finish soars on forever. Perfectly balanced and utterly compelling, this wine is almost impossible to spit out, and immediately had me furtively thinking about stealing whatever drops might be left in the glasses of my neighbors. The fruit for this wine came from the original Block Three of the Eisele Vineyard, planted in 1964. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 10. Cost: $2565. click to buy.

1992 Caymus Vineyards “Special Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium to dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of tobacco, dark red fruit and a trace of new oak. In the mouth, a core of pure cherry fruit is wrapped in well-integrated new oak. Excellent balance, good acidity, and a nice herbal note that lingers in the finish. Spent 30 months in wood. Elegant and very pretty. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $180. click to buy.

1997 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown
Very dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of ultra-ripe black cherry, cassis, and tobacco. In the mouth, sweet flavors of cassis, black cherry, and wet earth are wrapped in powdery, mouth coating tannins. Rich, ripe, and dark, with a grapey youthfulness, this wine has a sweetness that is quite candied and not to my taste. I’m not sure if the sweetness here is residual sugar or just the sweetness of glycerol that accompanies the substantial 15.5% alcohol. Despite being high octane, there is no trace of heat on the finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $800. click to buy.

1999 St. Supery “Dollarhide Estate Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark ruby in the glass with a slight cloudy cast, this wine smells of sweet black cherry and tobacco aromas. In the mouth, dark black cherry fruit is wrapped in muscular tannins that coat the mouth, while excellent acidity keeps the wine quite alive. A hint of smokiness and earthiness lingers in the finish. Quite expressive and powerful, but not overwhelming. Gorgeous. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $73. click to buy.

1999 Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
Dark ruby in the glass with a hint of purple left in it, this wine smells of cherry cola and licorice. In the mouth cherry cola and cocoa powder flavors are wrapped in faint powdery tannins. Good acidity, but some alcoholic heat comes through the finish. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Verdot, 8% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2002 Silverado Vineyards “SOLO” Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry cola. In the mouth, the wine has a bright purity of cherry cola flavor that is remarkable and juicy. Powdery tannins coat the mouth but have a delicacy to them that is quite elegant. The excellent acidity makes this wine mouthwateringly delicious. Incredibly easy to drink. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2002 Chappellet “Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark garnet in the glass with some ruby color showing on the rim, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth the wine has a bright aromatic sweetness to it that carries a core of cassis and black cherry fruit married to a darker underbody of smoky earthy notes that are quite compelling. Excellent balance, great acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2001 Corison “Kronos Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry with a hint of mint and earth and raw, wet rocks. In the mouth incredibly bright cedar and cherry flavors have herbal undertones and wild floral overtones that are quite compelling. Stunning acidity and balance, with remarkable purity and length and a real sense of stoniness coming through in the finish.legends-32.jpgFaint suede-like tannins hang to the background of perception and provide supporting muscle for the ballet dancer that this wine is on the palate. Outstanding. Tasted out of magnum. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $135. click to buy.

2002 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet raisins and prunes. In the mouth very ripe raisined fruits mix with cedar and chocolate, and these flavors combine with a sort of leathery note. Somewhat overripe to my taste, but the plush tannins and good acidity keep this wine easy to drink. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2005 Spring Mountain Vineyard “Elivette” Red Wine, Spring Mountain District
Dark garnet in color and throwing a bit of sediment, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco and wet earth with the tiniest hint of new oak. In the mouth, bright acidity makes flavors of cherry, cocoa powder, espresso, and cedar come alive. Wonderfully integrated wood is almost imperceptible in its presence, subsumed by great fruit and wonderful acidity. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. Great finish. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2007 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Dark garnet in the glass and looking surprisingly youthful, this wine smells of cassis and cherry. In the mouth the wine has a brightness and juiciness to it that is quite compelling. Sour cherry and cassis flavors are married to dusty earth undertones, and a sour cherry quality lingers in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2005 Frank Family Vineyards “Winston Hill Vineyard” Red Wine, Rutherford
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of espresso, cocoa powder, and tobacco with a deep red fruit underneath. In the mouth, sweet cherry and tobacco take on a hint of new oak. Great acidity makes the fruit quite juicy. A Blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, and 4% Petite Verdot. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2006 Cardinale Proprietary Red Wine
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark cherry and cassis with a rumbling darkness of wet earth. In the mouth the wine has a burliness that is extraordinary as dark rich cherry and cassis flavors seem strained through wet earth and Turkish coffee. Great acidity keeps the wine drinkable even in its massive darkness. A blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot, with fruit from Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain. Mount Veeder, St. Helena, Stag’s Leap, as well as specifically To Kalon vineyard. 1500 cases made. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $240. click to buy.

2007 Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
Inky dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and smoky graphite. In the mouth flavors of cassis and black cherry are closed tightly in a fist of powdery, muscular, teeth-coating tannins that rather gruffly insist that this wine be put back on the shelf for five or ten years. The dark cassis fruit has excellent acidity, and floral notes linger in the finish. Quite young and needs time. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.

1988 Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs
Medium gold in the glass with incredibly fine bubbles, this wine smells of marzipan, baked apples, and parchment. In the mouth the wine offers a delicate and subtle mousse with flavors of grilled lemon peel, roasted nuts, white flowers, and notes of saline and beeswax and toasted bread. Somewhat narrow in its expression. Bottled in 1989, and aged on its lees for 20 years. 100% Pinot Noir, zero dosage. Exact alcohol level unknown. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2002 Ramey “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, buttered sourdough, and lemon curd. In the mouth, the wine has a wonderful creamy silkiness, with flavors of pastry cream, lemon curd, and tropical fruits. Slightly lower acidity than I would like, but seamless on the palate and a wonderful integrated whole, with no overt oak quality. Showing very little sign of its age. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2006 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of pineapple and mango and vanilla. In the mouth, intense tropical fruits including pineapple and papaya mix with the sweet vanilla and toasted hazelnuts of new oak and. Silky, smooth, and sexy, but on balance, too rich and too oaky for my taste. Essentially this is a style of California Chardonnay that is thankfully going out of fashion 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2007 Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherries, tobacco, and a hint of wet earth. In the mouth the wine is seamless and silky with an incredible broad and expansive presence on the palate. Rich cherry, cola, espresso and tobacco notes course over very fine grained, supple tannins. Excellent acidity and superb balance. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, and a tiny bit of Petite Verdot. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $210. click to buy.

2007 Sbragia Family Vineyards “Cimarossa Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis with notes of tobacco. In the mouth flavors of cola, cassis, and a creamy, chalky quality contribute to an overall weighty presence on the palate. Decent acidity and powdery mouth-coating tannins. Long finish. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2004 Macauley “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco with notes of dark chocolate and raisins. In the mouth, intense dark black cherry fruit has a remarkable weightlessness on the palate thanks to bright, juicy acidity. Cola notes and deeper chocolate notes linger through the finish along with a creamy quality that is quite legends-46.jpgcompelling. Soft, velvety tannins. Gorgeous. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $??. click to buy in large format.

2009 Bacio Divino Cellars “Janzen – Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and blueberry. In the mouth, rich blueberry and cassis flavors are wrapped in a firm glove of mouth-coating tannins. Excellent acidity counterpoints this massively structured blue and dark fruit. Very long finish. 15.1% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $140. click to buy.

2009 TOR “Clone 337 – Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich, dark cassis and chocolate. In the mouth, intense cassis, chocolate, and violets mix beautifully amidst a fine mist of powdery tannins that hang faintly in the background. Long finish, decent acidity. 15% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2010 Carter Cellars “The O.G. – Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry with notes of blueberry. In the mouth, bright, juicy blueberry and cassis fruit with high toned qualities sit on a bed of velvety tannins. Gorgeous texture, and excellent acidity. Very little signature of its 15.1% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2010 12C Wines “Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of smoky cassis, licorice, and blueberry notes. In the mouth, cassis and blueberry flavors mix with deeper cola nut