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Tasted blind: 1991 Ridge Monte Bello, 1986 Phelps Backus, and 1984 Duckhorn


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Last night Lou and I gathered to blindly taste through several bottles of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon.  For fun, we each unknowingly threw in an Australian blend of Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon.  Perhaps this is unfair given the stature of our main selections but it was for fun.  As we settled down to cheese, charcuterie, and cork removal we checked out a bottle of 2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray.  I do not have enough experience with Huet so I found the lifted, aromatically textured nose a delight.  It starts off in the fruit spectrum eventually to take on a honey character.  In the mouth this is a fresh, grippy wine with a nice balance of fruit supported by hints of yeast and oxidation.  Fine stuff!  I look forward to finishing my leftover glass tonight.

It was then on to the bagged red wines.  Guessing is fun when you are not pressured.  Wine #1 is firm at first though you can detect some maturity and herbaceousness.  It is the most structured wine out of all tasted and I, admittedly clueless, narrowed in to the 1979-1981 vintages.  For those who enjoy structured, rather than opulent wines the 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley will develop for years to come.  It eventually reveals a bit more of its bottle aged maturity.

Wine #2 showed signs of old seepage under the capsule but the fill was where the neck met the shoulder.  You could get a sense of this on the nose which leaned towards meat rather than fruit but in the mouth the flavor and delivery of the fruit flavor is gorgeous!  What luxury it is to drink glass after glass of 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains.  This is a sophisticated wine of ideal balance with youthful, complex fruit flavors that seek out every part of your mouth with wave after wave of flavor.  Also excellent is wine #4.  After some bottle stink blew off, this is highly aromatic of eucalyptus.  In the mouth an impressive amount of energy unfurls dark fruit, ripe structure, and wood box.  The 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley is perhaps more mature in flavor than the Ridge but the Phelps needs more time to open up.  It is fascinating pair to drink together.  No one spat these two wines!

Just a few final thoughts with regards to wines #3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia, avoid, and #5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia.  Wakefield River Estates was founded in 1972 by Dr. Douglas Hewitson who planted just over 2,100 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the wheatbelt area of Balaklava.  The wines were made by the highly regarded James Irvine who still produces wine today.  James Irvine got his start at a young age having developed the Siegersdorf brand in 1959 as winemaker at Hardy’s.  As the Wakefield winery had no buildings the wine was made at Saltram, an historic Barossa Valley winery founded in 1859.  Wakefield River Estates was short-lived and curious enough, the label on the bottle tells the history including the demise indicating this bottle was imported in the mid 1980s.  It was in 1982 that all of the fruit was eaten by starlings and in 1983, due to severe drought conditions, there was a sparse crop.  The fruit was sold off and the winery ceased.  As for the vintage Decanter states the wines are of “richness and longevity” with the wines around Adelaide being “robust”.  So perhaps it was a bit unfair to include this wine with the Ridge and Phelps but the potential is there.

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2002 Huet, Le Haut-Lieu, Sec, Vouvray
Imported by Robert Chadderdon.  Alcohol 12%. It is the color of a light apple cider.  On the nose are finely textured, lifted aromas of dried apricots and apple cider.  With air the nose reveals honey aromas.  In the mouth this is a mildly weight wine with a vein of acidity and hint of yeast towards the finish.  It wraps up with a fresh and grippy finish.  Additional complexity is gained from a hint of oxidation. ***(*) Now – 2027.

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#1 – 1984 Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Alcohol 12.9%.  This is less dark than #2 but of similar color.  The nose offers hints of maturity with the slightest hint of herbaceousness.  A lively start brings a little tang and firmness of flavor.  There is still structure in the end which contributes to the lasting sensation.  With air the wine begins to open up maturity becoming more evident.  It also develops a mineral note and a dusty, wood box flavor. ***(*) Now – 2022.

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#2 – 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol 13.3%.  This garnet wine is still fairly opaque in the middle.  The nose is a bit meaty.  In the mouth this wine packs in the flavor with a plum hint at first, mineral middle, then a younger, fresh eucalyptus finish.  There is sophistication to the purple and black fruits There is still a very fine tannic structure and acidity throughout. Impeccably balanced and impressive. ****(*) Now – 2027.

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#3 – 2004 Penfolds, Koonunga Hill, Shiraz-Cabernet, South Eastern Australia
Imported by FWE Imports.  This wine is a blend of 64% Shiraz and 36% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in oak.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The subtle nose is followed by candied and pruned flavors in the mouth.  The acidity stands separate from the core of simple fruit flavors.  Tastes like a cheap domestic port.  Poor.

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#4 – 1986 Joseph Phelps Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley
Alcohol 13.3%.  Some bottle stink at first but that blows off to reveal a highly aromatic, eucalyptus nose.  In the mouth is dark flavor, more structure, and a touch of ruggedness in the finish.  But over the course of several hours this wine unfurls itself.  It adds both wood box and blood.  The energy is impressive as framed, ripe, inky fruit coats the mouth. ****(*) Now – 2027.

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#5 – 1978 Wakefield River Estates, Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
Imported by San Francisco Traders LTD.  This wine is a blend of mostly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak puncheons.  Alcohol 12%.  A mature garnet color.  There is a ripe fruit start but the wine quickly turns soft only to end at the short finish.  Simply too old at this point.  Fair.

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  1. Jamie Garard
    February 9, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    I have heard many times over that the ’91 Ridge is a rock star. Thank you for the comments.

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