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A California Cabernet Inspired by Great Bordeaux

Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Gravelly Meadow 1996
James Laube
Posted: September 4, 2009

Creating ageworthy Cabernet along the lines of first-growth Bordeaux was always Al Brounstein’s target. The late Napa vintner so admired Bordeaux that he carried (or smuggled) home vine cuttings from elite Bordeaux châteaus for use in his Diamond Creek Vineyard, where he made four mountain-grown, single-vineyard Cabernets.

I caught his 1996 Gravelly Meadow bottling at a wonderful time. It exhibited complex, mature aromas of smoke, anise, currant and cedar. Texturally, it was smooth, impeccably balanced and showing the delicacy that comes with time. On the finish, it echoed currant and wild berry flavors. The 1996 Cabernets were tight on release but are showing well now. This wine should age another decade with ease. 93 points, non-blind. members: Read the original blind tasting review for Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Gravelly Meadow 1996 (91, $100 on release).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated California Cabernets, along with our quick list of Top Values in California Cabernet.

Member comments   3 comment(s)

Greg Flanagan — Bethel CT —  September 6, 2009 8:30pm ET


I have a hard time with tannins and figuring out the life expectancy of wine(s).....I can tell that a wine with a decade or more of age certainly has mellowed and also that young, tight wines have “backbone” and grip to hold the wine in a cellar. So, when I was reading this post and compared your two notes (one blind in 1998 and the other non in 2009)....I just needed to ask you about the Wine Spectator and/or your personal "best from" windows....there is a big difference from what you tasted/reviewed in 98 and 09....eleven years ago you thought the “window” should have practically closed, but now the “window” is open for another decade, easily? What happens in/with the wine in that time to explain the difference? Can wines that have some life, actually have a lot? Can wines that have a weak backbone (tannin) turn the other way, and age for awhile? Somehow? Maybe the tannins are perfectly (too?) ripe and give the impression of a weak grip?....I have found that many wines have a much longer “window” than most reviews predict. Its not an exact science, I know, but my essential question would be—what happens (on all levels) that CHANGE the “best from window?”

Oh yeah.....on another note---whats up with the 91 pointer from 1998 being a "cellar selection"? (you must have really known it could age for a couple/few decades!! haha)

James Laube — Napa, CA —  September 8, 2009 6:03pm ET

Greg, good question. I recommend drinking wines early, but in instances where a wine is doing well with some age, then the window is extended. Each editor bases his or her drink window based on when they think it will be best...but it's not science. Here are a couple of links on the subject.

We also try to pick excellent wines from all vintages, so even in a weak year there are some cellar worthy wines.

Greg Flanagan — Bethel CT —  September 22, 2009 8:18pm ET

Thanks James....good give great advice and by the way, your tasting notes clarify my confused palate!!!

The question(s) of age-ability, tannin strength and affect on ageing, and "drinkability" are all objective....glad to know that I am not alone in my ever learning confused wine world.....

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