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james laube's wine flights

Notes From Friday's Barrel Tasting

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 11, 2007 1:28pm ET

The most pleasant surprise at Friday’s barrel tasting: how well the 2005 Cabernets showed.

The last time I tried a group of these wines they struck me as elegant, balanced and understated, the kind of vintage that slowly unfolds and reveals itself over time rather than being up front, showy and opulent. I think the same can be said of 2006. Both years came from cool, milder growing conditions.

I tasted some 40 wines at Auction Napa Valley’s barrel tasting and the 2005s (along with a few 2006s) impressed me with their elegance, balance, depth and complexity.

A couple of readers I ran into asked me what I’m looking for in wines this young. For the sake of being succinct, the answer is purity of fruit flavor.

I entered the barrel tasting as it started and before it got crowded and loud – two detriments to concentration. I focused on wines that were either new to me or wines I was less familiar with. As a side note to Friday’s blog about barrel tasting, I would add that using benchmark wines – wines that you are familiar with and typically like -- as reference points is another. For example, a couple that I relied on were Shafer Hillside Select and Pride Mountain.

My favorite 2005s included: Atlas Peak Claret (rich and structured), Blackbird Bordeaux Blend (elegant and stylish), Bennett Lane (plush and dark), Brookdale (smooth, rich and loamy), Frank Family Vineyards (dark, rich and complex) Ilsley Stags Leap District (super rich), Kuleto (a complex, structured blend of Cabernet and Cabernet Franc), Keenan Spring Mountain (tight and structured) Louis M. Martini Lot 1 (very elegant and refined, destined for a reserve bottling), O’Brien Estate Seduction (sharply focused), O’Shaughnessy Mount Veeder (tight and structured), Parallel (plush and extracted), Pride Spring Mountain (opulent), Ramian Estate Mount Veeder Chapter 5 (another tight one from Mount Veeder), Shafer Hillside Select (plush yet elegant), Silverado (elegant and complex) and Sonador Spring Mountain (rich and oaky). Ahnfeldt had the lone 2005 Merlot (complex and deep).

From 2006, I was impressed by these Cabernets: Chateau Montelena (tight and structured), Hartwell Stags Leap District Essencia (plush and deep), Honig Bartolucci (dark, rich and focused), Longfellow Coombsville (rich and loamy), Nickel & Nickel St. Helena Dragonfly Vineyard (tight currant-laced fruit).

The lone 2004 belonged to William Cole Cuvee Claire (super rich and concentrated). The only Petite Sirah poured was the 2005 Carver Sutro; in a word, chewy.

And I'll share two last tasting notes from Saturday’s live auction. My favorite wines that night (among many) were the Lang & Reed Right Bank 2004 (a Bordeaux-inspired red made from primarily Cabernet Franc, with Merlot and small parts Cabernet and Petit Verdot) that is smooth, elegant, polished and easy-drinking ($80); along with a 2001 Parry ($48), which was super-rich and concentrated. This wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, comes from Sue and Stephen Parry’s half-acre vineyard on Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga; worth getting on their mailing list, as the price is as good as the wine.

Roy Piper
Napa, CA. —  June 11, 2007 9:07pm ET
My favorites were the 06 Ch. Montelena, the 05 Shafer Hillside, the 05 O'Shaughnessy. The 05 Keenan, the 05 Turnbull Black Label, the 05 Ramian Estate and the 05 Cliff Lede Poetry.The Montelena was a revelation, and should clock in at 13.6%, low for Napa.
George Pallas
Arcadia, Ca —  June 13, 2007 3:26pm ET
James, I was in contact with Honig today and the wine club manager told me it was an 05 Honig Bartolucci Barrel Sample, not the 06. But thanks for mentioning the Honig, they are great people, in fact they are allowing their wine club members to blend their own 2005 Cabernet this sunday.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  June 13, 2007 4:36pm ET
George, thanx for the note, but they told me the '06 was being poured and that's what the catalogue said as well...
Steven Glazer
Orinda —  June 25, 2007 12:53am ET
I received a couple bottles of the 2003 Parry cab today. I immediately popped it open to try with some BBQ. Really, really good. Elegant, well balanced, smooth with tasty fruit and depth. Nice reccomendation.

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