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“a classic cabernet with great potential”: Tasting mature Californian wines by the fireplace


A last minute effort to host a casual wine tasting over the holiday weekend did not turn up any remarkable numbers. Instead, Lou and I relaxed by the fire in my living room to be eventually joined by Jenn. The 1989 Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Napa Valley is a recent purchase from The Rare Wine Company. With perfect fill, label, and cork this wine was fantastic introduction to an elegant style of mature Chardonnay. The aromas and flavors reflect maturity but the acidity and structure speak of years of continued development.

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Our two bottle of mature red wine came from the Earthquake Cellar which has yet to let us down. My experience with Lytton Springs has always been positive, stemming from bottles of Ridge which I have tasted including the fine 1973 which Lou opened a few years back. Ridge first bought fruit from Lytton Springs in 1972 eventually acquiring the vineyard and the winery in 1991.  It makes sense then that the 1988 Lytton Springs Winery, Zinfandel, Private Reserve, Sonoma County was in fine shape. There is no doubt that the generous aromas and flavors came from Zinfandel but they were not overdone, rather supported by structure. This bottle was double-decanted to remove sediment. It drank effusively for a few hours before starting to fade.

From a drought vintage came the 1977 Villa Mt. Eden, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. Incredibly, the fruit from this wine was sourced from five year old vines in a 25 acre vineyard.  The wine itself was made by Nils Venge who went on to produce the 1985 Groth, Cabernet Sauvignon which was the first 100 point wine rated by Robert Parker.  Here is Terry Roberts tasting note from 1981 published in The New York Times.

“Villa Mt. Eden cabernet sauvignon 1977. $14.99. Dark ruby color. Slightly peppery, spicy bouquet. Full-bodied, with plenty of fruit evident beneath an astringent overlay. Raspberries and plums, a classic cabernet with great potential.”

The top-shoulder fill was matched by a perfect label and solid cork that was soundly seated in the neck. Popped and poured, the nose was low-lying while a quick sip revealed the wine was solid. A few more sips revealed the wine was really quite good with deep fruit, mature wood box flavors, and even fresh acidity. It was the opposite of the fruity, berry driven Lytton Springs. I really liked the Villa Mt. Eden. There was no need to make allowances for its age, it was outright satisfying.

We wrapped up the early evening with a bottle Lou purchased during his trip to the Finger Lakes. It seems incongruous to move forward decades but the 2013 Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Cabernet Franc, Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes neither overwhelmed nor felt out of place. Zippy with persistent flavors this is an excellent example of Cabernet Franc. And an excellent example of a wine from New York.

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1989 Stony Hill Vineyard, Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. The golden color was taking on amber hints, clearly reflecting time spent in bottle. In the mouth were yeast and toast accented, tart yellow fruit which was rather lively and structured. It took some time for this elegant wine to open up. It remained focused with quiet complexity from flavors of dry spiced, fallen apples, chalk, and a finish, which left noticeable tannins on the gums, that kept me returning to the glass. Drinking great. **** Now but will last for a long time.

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1988 Lytton Springs Winery, Zinfandel, Private Reserve, Sonoma County
Alcohol 14.4%. The aromatic nose was scented with bramble berry and hints of leather. In the mouth this berrylicious wine had a hint of animale and leather. It still bore plenty of ripe fruit that was almost zippy from the watering acidity. The maturity was noticeable with air. After a few hours the flavors became higher toned, simpler and began to fade. **** Now.

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1977 Villa Mt. Eden, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13%. Top shoulder fill. There was a little animale stink to the nose. In the mouth the wine was surprisingly deep with menthol, wood box, and pleasing tannins on the gums. There was fresh acidity, perfectly integrated with the blue and black fruit. It is true that the finish was a touch short but this wine had fine flavor and fruit which lasted for hours. It stayed lively until there was no more.  The acidity always bound with pleasing wood influences. **** Now but will easily last.

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2013 Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Cabernet Franc, Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes
Alcohol 13%. The nose bore some green leafiness. The wine was driven by zippy acidity which brought mineral, clinging fruit flavors which were undeniably alive. The good fruit made for a juicy, berry wine which drank with complete satisfaction. *** Now – 2018.

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  1. Jamie Garard
    January 20, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Older Cali wines are a real treat as most are aging gracefully. Thank you for the notes.

  2. August 9, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    I loved your post! You have great taste – some amazing wines in there. Some new ones I don’t know but need to get to know. Check us out at http://www.topochinesvino.com – our California wine country blog. Follow us if you like what you see.

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