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Two Insignias From the 1970s

Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley 1978 and 1979
Nathan Wesley
Posted: May 6, 2011

In our New York tasting department, we have a tradition of initiating new team members with a group lunch. This past week we gathered to welcome assistant tasting coordinator Stefanie Schwartz, and we served up Thai curries, noodles and a Riesling for the occasion.

After lunch, though, senior tasting coordinator Alison Napjus surprised us with a bottle each of the 1978 and 1979 Joseph Phelps Insignia, a California Cabernet blend, which had been gathering dust in our office wine cellar. As Alison pointed out, both vintages were past their recommended drink dates, so why not see how they were holding up, just for educational purposes? We all happily nodded in agreement.

The 1979 was barely hanging in there, with dried meat, mushroom glaze, hoisin sauce, date and iodine notes. It wasn’t unpleasant, but the fruit had nearly faded. I rated it 78 points, non-blind.

The 1978, however, offered enough dried fruits—currant, cherries and Turkish figs—to carry layers of leather saddle, cedar, incense and dried herb notes, with a hint of graphite pushing through on the fragile finish. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc didn’t have the density or length to be outstanding, as it’s been rated in the past, but it was very good and indeed a rare educational experience. I rated it 87 points, non-blind. members: Read previous blind-tasting reviews for Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley 1978 (93 points in a retrospective tasting, $16 on release) and the Insignia 1979 (92 points in a retrospective tasting, $20 on release).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated Napa Valley Cabernets and blends.

Member comments   2 comment(s)

Pj Colarusso — Mohnton PA —  July 10, 2011 12:39pm ET

I have several bottles of 06 and 07 Insignia
wasn't planning to touch them for several years
any suggestions on cellaring time for these beauties?

Nathan Wesley — NYC —  July 14, 2011 1:38pm ET


I have not tasted either of those vintages, so I would follow James Laube's recommended drink windows. 2011 through 2018 for the 2006, and 2013 through 2025 for the 2007.

Those are broad drink windows, so I also suggest that you consider your personal preference for aged wine. If you favor forward fruit character, drink them young. If you favor tertiary character, drink them old. Or, with several bottles on hand, you can hedge your bet and drink a bottle every few years. That's a great way to follow a wine's evolution.

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