There's One in Every Crowd

Oct 23, 2006

Late Saturday night, a few minutes before it turned into Sunday morning, my bubble finally burst.

Up until that moment I thought that perhaps I had succeeded.

My intent in showcasing 10 great Napa Valley Cabernets on Friday had been to show the diversity of styles and different expressions of terroir and style within the valley.

Sure, it was an all-star lineup, thanks to the generosity of the owners. We tasted six 2003s (Colgin IX, Merus, Paul Hobbs Stagecoach Vineyard, Harlan Estate, Schrader Beckstoffer To-Kalon and Robert Foley Claret), a trio of 2002s, (Gemstone, Screaming Eagle and Araujo Eisele Vineyard) and one 2001 (Sloan) Everyone had 90 minutes to compare and contrast these wines.

Obviously, it’s not the kind of tasting that happens every day and, in fact, I’m sure even the owners had never sat down with this identical set of wines.

The two senior winemakers in the group, Bob Foley and Paul Hobbs, both of whom have logged 33 harvests, had never met before I introduced them prior to our seminar.

After the tasting, the response from those in the audience, and the panel, was immediate and as expected.

Everyone who approached me had a few favorites, perhaps a couple of disappointments, certainly moments of enlightenment tasting wines they’d never tried and might not ever try again, but certainly no quibbles about the quality of the wines, the format or the winemakers.

At least 30 people reached out to tell me about their impressions of the wines, and there was no consensus about which wine was the favorite, which is fine. How do you pick a winner, or worse, a loser out of that group?

Ah well, someone did find the tasting uninspiring and uneventful, and as I left the Grand Award banquet and headed to the bar at the top of the Marriott, a woman, who I’ve known for years, approached me with the bad news.

“All of the wines tasted the same,” she said, in a no-nonsense tone.

She wondered what the point was.

She proceeded to nip and tuck at me and the wines for proving to her that all 10 were, more or less, and for better or worse, identical.

Up until that moment I thought I had made my case.

But it just goes to prove you can’t sway a jury of 1,000.

I just hope she was the only one who went home with that impression.


Read James Suckling's thoughts on tasting California Cabernet

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