With all the great California Cabernet Sauvignons that came after, people tend to forget the 1991 vintage, but it was an excellent one. California Cabernet came into its own with the 1985s, but for me the early benchmark was always 1991.
From the start, the wines showed great depth and balance, and were immediately drinkable, but you had the sense they would age gracefully. For me they had an additional significance: My daughter Sophie was born in 1991.
We celebrated her 21st birthday last week and I opened a few of the 1991s I've had in my cellar since they were released. The bottles were in great shape and the wines had aged beautifully. They made up for all those bottles I've opened with anticipation over the years only to be disappointed.
Before I talk about the wines, I have to admit that I didn't have many choices for the cellar in 1991. It was a lousy year in Bordeaux, and only average for Burgundy and Tuscany. The only shining light in Europe was Vintage Port, which Wine Spectator rated 93 on our 100-point scale. I have a few Ports in the cellar that I'm keeping for later. No hurry with those.
That said, the 1991 California Cabernets aren't wines that should be lingering in your cellar. They were at their prime a few years ago, I'll admit, but that doesn't take away from how delightful they were to drink, even if you don't have a child born that year.
It was a tough call, but my favorite of the 1991s was the Dominus Napa Valley Napanook Vineyard. It offered delicacy and structure, with notes of cherry and tea. A close second was the Stag's Leap Cask 23 Napa Valley, which was more dense and earthy but remarkably supple. Sonoma showed well too, with the Laurel Glen Sonoma Mountain 1991. It wasn't as elegant as the others, but it retained its mountain backbone and bold fruit and it remained remarkably youthful.
I imagine that few of you have 1991s left in the cellar. I couldn't resist all of them myself over the years, but I think it's worth confirming that California Cabernets—despite what skeptics say—can age splendidly in the cellar.
As for my daughter, she drank them dutifully and bragged about her good fortune on Facebook. I'm not sure at her age I would have enjoyed them as much.