Consulting winemaker Craig Williams (formerly of Joseph Phelps) surprised me by bringing a bottle of the 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet to lunch recently. This is one of the best Cabernets Mayacamas ever made (along with 1970 and 1978) and one of the superstars of that great vintage. It would make my "hall of fame" list for Cabernets of that era. Showing Mayacamas in its golden years, the wine was fully mature yet fresh, intense and vibrant, with wild berry, black olive and wilted rose nuances, joining a complex earth and mineral quality.
Mayacamas Cabernets of that era were always tight and tannic, and many people wondered whether these wines, grown at the top of Mount Veeder in Napa Valley, would ever come around. Well, the 1974 has aged beautifully, and amazingly it appears to have the depth, balance and vitality to make it another 10 years or more. This bottle had been perfectly stored. 95 points, non-blind—the same score I gave it when I reviewed it for my book, California's Great Cabernets, published in 1989.
The notes in our database are from retrospective tastings of 1974 California Cabernets, including a 97-point rating (for what was then labeled Mayacamas Napa Mountain) and a later 88-point rating. Clearly the one I just had was a superior bottle. I'm not sure why Mayacamas Cabernets after 1978 never achieved the same level of quality, since they come from the same vineyard and most of the same winemaking techniques are still employed.
WineSpectator.com members: See the retrospective tasting reviews for Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Mountain 1974.
• Plus, read James Laube's retrospective tasting reports for other mature vintages of California Cabernet.