At Age 10, a California Cabernet Still In Great Shape

Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 1999
James Laube
Posted: February 9, 2010

Cabernet Sauvignons that hit the 10-year mark in excellent condition are good candidates for aging another decade. That’s the case with Whitehall Lane’s 1999 Napa Valley Reserve. It's still dark-colored, ripe and supple, with spicy plum, blackberry and anise flavors that are pure, rich and elegant, ending with a long persistent finish.

I enjoyed this wine with friends during a recent football weekend over pulled pork and coleslaw salad. It drank well and held on over time. I’ve drunk this wine on several occasions and reviewed it officially twice in blind tastings, first as a new release in 2002 and again last year in a retrospective tasting. I loved the wine on release (94 points), but it didn’t show as much finesse and flavor in the retrospective last year (88 points). This bottle was on, more like it tasted on release—amazingly youthful and complex, ending with delicate berry notes. 94 points again, non-blind.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the previous blind-tasting reviews for Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 1999 ($65 on release).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated California Cabernets.

Member comments   15 comment(s)

Tim Wilson — Raleigh, NC —  February 9, 2010 10:32am ET

James, Thanks for your article which has lead me to a question that I have had for a few years now. I do think that I have read articles in the past which describes some wines as becoming closed or hibernating for a period of time only to reappear and drink as they did in their youth. I have drank some wines early on admiring the young fruit and upfront in your face flavors and then tasted the same wine a few years later only to wonder if I am drinking the same wine because it taste "closed" or almost flat. Then I drink this wine again and as if on queue it opens up like the first time which leads to my question. Are there wines that are more prone to hibernate in this fashion such as the cabernet, shiraz, merlot, or bordeaux blends and if so why? Thanks, Tim


Jeffrey D Travis — University Park, FL., USA —  February 9, 2010 12:53pm ET

Using the W.S. online search, I see where you score the original release 93pts. The above article says 94 pts on release. Did I miss something? Also, while understandable, it is somewhat un-nerving to see dramatically different scores for the same wine,assuming proper storage, especially when the later scores are higher.


Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA —  February 9, 2010 2:33pm ET

Do you think that variation is an age issue (e.g. the wine went thru a "dumb" stage and is now improving) or do you think it is a cork issue (e.g. the bottle you tasted last year had subthreshold oxidation and/or TCA taint-- not enough {for even you} to detect overtly but just enough to make it not as good as it should be)?


Thomas Kobylarz — Hoboken, NJ —  February 9, 2010 2:44pm ET

Great coincidence, I just had the 2001 Reserve from Whitehall Lane on Sunday and its going very strong! I had the 1999 last year and it was still very solid, but not on par as the release.

2001 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (USA, California, Napa Valley)

Drinking superbly right now. Fruit, tannins and acidity are all in balance.

Color: Dark core with vibrant red edges.
Nose: Blackberry and bing cherry, a touch of toasty oak and pencil shavings
Palate: Solid from start to finish. Coffee, crushed summer cherries, some of those shavings and spice. Medium to full bodied, supple tannins excellent Napa Cabernet! Fresh and long finish.

I had the 1999 last year as well and it was only ok as well for me. Last year must have been a dumb phase for the wine.

I had a 2001 Ramey Jericho Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon on Saturday that seemed shut down and got me to open another 2001 to see if it was also shy. I chose the WH Lane Reserve 2001 and it was drinking very well.

Jim, anyone, having issues with 2001 Napa Cabs being shy or muted of late?


Dave Reuther — Deerfield, Illinois —  February 9, 2010 4:15pm ET

Jeffery, I believe the non-reserve 1999 Whitehall Lane Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine you saw rated at 93 pts. This wine too is holding up nicely. I have 5 btls left and I'll be tasting it again shortly. My notes from last year indicate there is still life left in the wine.


James Laube — Napa, CA —  February 9, 2010 5:51pm ET

Tim, wines do go through phases and often times new releases are tight or closed, which can relate to bottle shock, that being when a wine is bottled. Once that period ends, usually within a few weeks, the wine should begin to drink well. As for closing down, or shutting down, I seldom experience that, but it does happen. Most of the time I encounter closed wines comes when a wine comes direct form a chilled environment. Decanting should resolve that.


James Laube — Napa, CA —  February 9, 2010 5:57pm ET

Andrew, once a wine is bottled its seal and storage conditions are big factors in how a wine ages. I think you know how I feel about corks, often a terribly weak link in the system, especially for aged wines. I can't say whether a bottle I reviewed last year had low level TCA or was simply "off," as in not representative of the wine. It's not unusual, though, to taste a wine serveral times and experience different levels of quality. That's one reason it's important to know how your wine was stored. Corks we have no control over.


James Laube — Napa, CA —  February 9, 2010 6:02pm ET

Jeffery, I'm not sure I understand your comment that it's "un-nerving" to see "dramatically different scores" with a one-point difference? Moreover, don't we hope that our aged wines improve? That's supposed to be the whole point of cellaring. Correct me if I misunderstood your query.


Christopher J Ascher — Shorewood, MN —  February 9, 2010 8:14pm ET

James:

Great comments as I opened a 1999 Whitehall Lane Reserve about one month ago and was surprised by how wonderfully it was drinking. It was much better than I remembered it a couple of years ago. I am hoping the 2001 Whitehall Lane Reserve will evolve and be as youthful as the '99 in a few years.


Brian Smith — Washington DC —  February 10, 2010 7:15am ET

James:

I think Jeffery's reference to "dramatically different scores" is the 94 on release and the 88 in the retrospective. You already addressed this in your response to Andrew.

Wine goes through stages in the bottle over time. Wouldn't it be odd if your tasting did not pick up on those nuances? I find it interesting when you revisit wines several years after release, if only to confirm that age really can make a difference (and not always a positive one).

In the meantime, I'll just keep digging into my cellar while the rest of the city digs out of Snowmageddon 2010.


James Laube — Napa, CA —  February 10, 2010 11:59am ET

Brian, that's why collectors often lament, "there are no great wines only great bottles." Once a wine is bottled and sealed, it becomes unique.


Jeffrey D Travis — University Park, FL., USA —  February 10, 2010 1:45pm ET

Jim, I was referring to difference between the 88pts given on the retrospective tasting and the 94 pts given upon release and recent tasting as being un-nerving. Sorry for the confusion.


James Laube — Napa, CA —  February 10, 2010 1:58pm ET

Jeffrey, it appears that the 88-point bottle was of lesser quality, but that there are still some sensational bottles of wine out there that compare very favorably with the wine on release. I too bought this wine and share the disappointment when it under performs. For more on bottle variation, see James Suckling's blog on the Harlan 1997.


D S Cuppy — Phoenix, AZ —  February 10, 2010 7:57pm ET

Whitehall Lane is one of those consistently VERY GOOD cab producers. Always a sure bet.


Ted A Hunt — Fort Lauderdale, Fl —  February 10, 2010 9:08pm ET

James - thanks for writing about the Whitehall Lane '99 Reserve. Based on the blogs, the Whitehall Lanes from '99 and '01 are disappearing quickly! For Christmas Dinner this year we drank the '99 Napa bottling and the '01 Napa bottling, not the Reserves. The "kids" were very impressed with their father, for both these Whitehall Lane wines have aged very well and were drinking like much higher priced wines from these vintages. We still have 2 bottles of the '01 Reserve, which I obtained from my friend Andrew at Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale, and they might be on the menu for next year.


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