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Thoughts on the California Cab Tasting

Posted: Oct 23, 2006 2:11pm ET

I am writing this while I wait for a connection from Madrid to Pisa. I am jetlagged already. But I was thinking about this past weekend's California Wine Experience, and I think one of the most interesting tastings was the Napa Valley Cabernet Tasting, moderated by James Laube, our lead taster in California.

For me, the clear winner of the tasting was the 2003 Colgin IX Estate. I thought it had everything going for it, and in my opinion, the wine rates 96 points during this nonblind tasting. The red showed beautiful aromas of blackberries and vanilla that followed through to a rich and soft palate, solid tannins and a long finish. It is a wine with balance and opulence.

My second favorite wine in the tasting was the 2003 Robert Foley Claret Napa Valley. I gave it 94 points. Granted, it was big and powerful and slightly alcoholic but I was impressed with its black licorice and currant character with an underlying earthiness that gave it a unique character. I wrote on my tasting sheet, “real deal.”

The 2002 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard was a close third – 93 points. I really liked the tobacco, berry and light earth character on the nose. It was full, silky and complex. Some friends complained of what they called a green undertone, but I thought it was just the tobacco character in the wine. It was very Bordeaux-like.

Unfortunately, I found a number of the other wines very hot and alcoholic. I know that a lot of California winemakers talk about picking their grapes when the fruit tastes perfectly ripe, but maybe some are going too far? 

I thought the 2003 Merus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley was impressive but a little overdone due to the high alcohol levels in the wine– 89 points. Another wine that suffered from this, although it was better quality, at 91 points for me, was the 2003 Harlan.

Both the 2003 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Stagecoach Vineyard and 2003 Schrader Napa Valley Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard were better balanced, cleaner and more stylish. 92 points.

The 2002 Gemstone Yountville was enjoyable but rather one-dimensional and didn’t really turn me on much. 88 points. The 2002 Screaming Eagle was also a little of a letdown. It seemed a little reserved, or muted might be a better description. I gave it 90 points at the tasting, but a year ago I scored it 93 points. Not sure about that. The 2001 Sloan was too woody for me and finished a little bitter. I gave it 89 points. Stuart Sloan proudly said that he left the wine 25 months in new wood. I am not sure that was such a great idea.

Sloan also said something funny at the tasting – “When you have a great bottle of wine, don’t you wish you made it?”

I am not sure about that either. But I am sure glad that I got to taste the Cabs at the tasting during the Wine Experience…making them sounds like much too much work!

Read James Laube's thoughts on having moderated this tasting

Robert Caruana Jr
East Islip, NY —  October 23, 2006 3:45pm ET
James - In leading the "Top 10" tasting at the California Wine Experience, were there any wines in particular that stood out or surprised you (either for good reasons or bad)? If so, which were they and why?
James Suckling
 —  October 23, 2006 5:25pm ET
The Yquem was the 100-point bombshell it should be. And the Insigna was glorious. And... I liked them all. May be the Melchoir was slighlty less stellar than I expected but I thought it was outstanding regardless.
Paul Lin
Irvine —  October 23, 2006 6:37pm ET
Out of curiosity, how did James Laube feel about the Colgin that evening? I believe he gave it 90 points in the latest issue.
Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  October 23, 2006 9:12pm ET
James, I know it is not this simple but how much does a good wine lose if you find it to have an high alcohol level that is too high? Especially if that is its predominate "flaw".
James Suckling
 —  October 24, 2006 2:05am ET
James didn't tell me what he scored the Colgin, but I know he liked it very much.
Mike Vessa
East Williston,NY —  October 24, 2006 6:23am ET
James, Real pleased to read your comments re: the '03 Colgin IX. Just bought 9 bottles at the Southeby's auction in NYC and your compadre's 90 point rating made me nauseous. Cheers! MPV
Robert Caruana Jr
East Islip, NY —  October 24, 2006 10:21am ET
James - I already posted this question on your previous blog, but I'm not sure you read it. If you did, I apologize for the repetitive question.

Understanding that your tasting experience at the Wine Experience was non-blind, I'm interested to hear what you would have scored the '96 Ridge Monte Bello from the Grand Tasting; and more importantly what your tasting notes were (including what you believe to be the optimal drinking time frame) as I currently have two bottles in my cellar.
Glenn S Lucash
October 24, 2006 4:30pm ET
Just a editorial comment. I read your posting yesterday and then again today. It seems to me that something that was written yesterday was different today about the '01 Sloan. Is it my imagination?
James Suckling
 —  October 24, 2006 7:25pm ET
Glenn. That is what I wrote. May be you confused it with Laube? Imagination is a good thing anyway!Robert: Let me look for my notes. I stupidly wrote it on the back of a business card!
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  October 26, 2006 1:45am ET
What a grand tasting it must have been?!!? Of the 10 wines mentioned, our restaurant is only offered 2. We sold our 6 btls of 02 Araujo much earlier this yr w/out putting it on the list. We still have two btls 02 Harlan left from the 3 we were offered. The others are just fairytails I read about sort of like the time Broadbent talked about the 4 CENTURIES of Bordeaux that he tasted starting w/ a 1796. I'll start planning for the 07 Grand Tasting =)

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