Few things in wine are as frustrating as experiencing difficulties with a great bottling that you’re long on. That’s been the case for me with the 1996 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 1999.
With a 95-point rating, 11,000 cases made and a $28 price tag, it was one of the easier picks we’ve made over the years. Since this Sonoma County wine was so delicious and readily available, I bought two cases so I could share the wine experience with friends as often as possible.
For the first decade or so, it consistently drank exceptionally well, never once letting me down. Then for several years it went through a phase where it typically offered less depth, fruit and complexity. I’ve tried perhaps six bottles from the winery itself, and on those occasions it seemed to lack a little pizzazz.
This California red has always been Bordeaux-like in its structure, concentration and finesse. Indeed, the name Cinq Cépages comes from the use of the five major grapes used in Bordeaux. Chateau St. Jean sourced grapes for this wine from throughout Sonoma County.
About a year ago, Dan Gustafson, a longtime friend, brought a bottle to dinner, and somehow the host forgot to open it that night. Months passed before we uncorked it at another dinner, and it was delicious. Dan had worked for St. Jean and kept the bottle well stored. It was complex, layered, elegant and refined, with cedary cigar box, tobacco, currant and black licorice—trim and tapered. It was nice to see it in tip-top shape. 93 points, non-blind.
WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting and retrospective tasting reviews for Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Cinq Cépages 1996, (95, $28 on release).
• Plus, get our quick list of Top Values among California Cabernets.