Log In / Join Now

Mature California Cabs à la Cubano

Posted: Jan 28, 2008 4:00pm ET

I had dinner in Florida on Saturday night in Coral Gables at a friend’s house and he laid out a fabulous dinner with excellent food and stunning wines. There’s nothing better than being from out of town and being made to feel like being part of the family. My friend, cigar manufacturer Jorge Padron, is Cuban-American, so the Latino welcome was as rich and as warm as the great cigars he makes.

Anyway, we drank a range of 1995 California Cabernets including wines from Montelena, Peter Michael, Caymus, Dalla Valle and Dunn. We also popped the cork on a 1996 Lafite Rothschild and a 1995 Noël Verset Cornas and 1995 Pauillac from Château Latour.

The Cornas went really well with pan-seared scallops with braised beef over polenta and the Cabs were delicious with the steamed sea bass over a bed of spinach and glazed fennel with olives. Our buddy Willy is an excellent cook. He spent the afternoon cooking at Jorge’s house.

The 1995 California Cabernets were showing wonderfully. They all seemed completely ready with varying degrees of fruit and tannin concentration. A couple were drying out a little. Here are my notes on the 1995s:

Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley The Montelena Estate 1995: The most forward of the group, showing sweet tobacco, plums and sage on the nose and palate. Medium to full body with fine tannins and a minty, berry aftertaste. Subtle and just a tad funky. But I like it a lot. 90 points, non-blind.

Peter Michael Les Pavots Knights Valley 1995: Fruity and fresh on the nose with currant, lightly toasted oak, sage and mint. Full body, with ripe fruit and a minty undertone tone. Velvety. Turns a little cold and reserved on the finish. No need to wait. 91 points, non-blind.

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection 1995: I thought this was the most complex of the group and I am seldom disappointed with a mature bottle of CSS. Aromas of dried flowers like violets and lilacs with hints of currants. Full and silky with plenty of clean, berry fruit character. Long and caressing. Balanced and beautiful. 94 points, non-blind.

Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995: Loads of minty, berry, cherry and plum aromas follow through to a medium body, with sweet tobacco and berry character but turns just a tad bitter on the finish. Drying out a bit. 90 points, non-blind.

Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 1995: This is an old-style Cabernet Sauvignon that I really appreciate, with currant, blackberry and hints of mineral on the nose. Very reserved, even austere. The palate is full but slightly hard with slightly angular tannins and a medium finish. I think a little more time would improve this wine. 90 points, non-blind.

It was interesting to compare the 1996 Lafite to these wines. Unfortunately, the claret outclassed them all. The first-growth had so much more complexity on the nose with sweet tobacco, cedar, cigar box, plum, currant and ripe strawberry aromas. The palate was full and very rich with caressing tannins. The palate continued to change from ripe fruit with cedar and cappuccino to red licorice and tobacco, even a little meaty. This is a wine with a long life ahead of it. 96 points, non-blind. I would leave it for another three to five years, or decant it a good three hours before serving.

I don’t know why I have it in my mind, but the dinner seemed to be another example of how well California wine can age, despite the non-believers. It also proved how “bienvenido Cubano” remains incredible. No matter where you are!

Dave Savona
January 28, 2008 4:46pm ET
James, those sound like wonderful wines and I know Big Willie's food was great. But what did you smoke?
Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  January 28, 2008 4:50pm ET
Hey...your in my state! Don't you want to come up to Tampa to visit the Fuentes and dine at Bern's.

James I just recently had a couple bottles of 95 Mondavi Cab Reserve that I enjoyed very much....Here are my TN's on it...Color is dark redish/brick. The nose shows mature notes of currant, cherry, leather and cedar reminding me of an aged Bordeaux with a slight V8 aspect hiding in the background. This is drinking very nicely, tannins are well integrated at this stage. The palate is medium body with notes representative of the nose. The finish is long. Very elegant and refined....a pleasure to drink. 92
James Suckling
 —  January 28, 2008 4:53pm ET
Steve: I think the top 1995s are very close to the 1997s and cost less. Thanks for the note. And I might take you up on the Tampa offer!
James Suckling
 —  January 28, 2008 4:56pm ET
Dave. You are going to hate me. I smoked a reserva de famili. It is a torpedo made with 10-year-old tobacco and only 30 boxes of 50 are made a year. I am going to blog about it on CA this week.
Tyler Mcafee
Houston, TX —  January 28, 2008 5:18pm ET
Must be nice to have nights where you drink Latour and not even include the tasting notes in your next blog. ;) Only kidding...I assume you wanted the Cabs to have the limelight.
James Suckling
 —  January 28, 2008 5:39pm ET
It was the third wine of Latour, not the real deal. It was good but nothing special.
Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  January 28, 2008 7:43pm ET
James I am always game for a night at Bern's, just let me know. I was just there last week with a couple friends from out of town. Our night included a 1970 Haut Bages Liberal, 1966 Montrose, 1982 Chave Hermitage and we finished the night in the desert room with a 1983 Hocheimer Hoelle Riesling Eiswein. All the wines drank wonderful, their cellars are just amazing.
Jordan Horoschak
Houston, TX —  January 28, 2008 8:30pm ET
James, I'm surprised you smoke cigars as a wine expert. Don't you find that the smoke kills your wine-sensitive taste buds? Or do you find that you appreciate tastes and aromas - regardless of whether they come from a glass or from smoke?
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  January 28, 2008 10:46pm ET
Jordan, that's a good question - especially with the frequency and regularity that James appears to taste. James, care to comment?
Steve Lenzo
PHX, AZ —  January 28, 2008 11:13pm ET

Nice to have friends who can open up 5 to 6 bottles plus a Lafite in one night. I assume you had more friends over. It would be a waste to see all that great wine go to waste. I guess if I had James Suckling over the house I'd bust open a half dozen bottles too.

I recently had a 1985 Lafite & '86 Latour. Both showed well for being un-spectacular years. I preferred the Latour. It was more complex and it had a lot more berry flavors left to it, while the Lafite was very elegant but not as powerful. Any thoughts on them or the 1986 Haut brion I'm going to drink that this weekend.
James Suckling
 —  January 29, 2008 7:55am ET
Jordan. It doesn't affect your palate. But I don't smoke that much and not around important tastings. Some of the greatest winemakers ever are/were smokers including Michel Rolland, Stephan Derenancourt, the late Andre Techlescheff (sp), the late Emile Peynaud... Go figure...
James Suckling
 —  January 29, 2008 9:36am ET
Stephen. There were 11 of us at the dinner. So it was tasting, not drinking. Let me know how the 1986 Haut-Brion is. I don't think I have had it for a while.
Stewart Lancaster
beaver,pa —  January 29, 2008 1:32pm ET
James, I appreciate your comments on the '95 Caymus. I have sev bottles of this. It sounds like it's drinking well now. Does it still havr some life or should it be consumed now?
James Suckling
 —  January 29, 2008 3:02pm ET
Stewart: No down side to the Caymus SS 1995 now. Hold or drink. But it's so good now. Why wait?
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  January 29, 2008 7:38pm ET
james, i will not make it friday. i will be in cun saturday to see you with a great line up. please tell me if you will be there. Please let me know via mail, if you have time at ludovic@vinoteca.com. great thanks!!
Leobardo Bellancetin
Mexico City —  January 29, 2008 8:27pm ET
Hola James, I love to hear that you had such wonderful wines with the Padron Family. Last year I organized a Dinner at the InterContinental Mexico City where we tasted Petrus 1976,1982,1994,1999,2001& Y'quem 1996. Jorge Padr¿n was invited and brought unique cigars Reserva de la Familia.We had an unforgettable Dinner. Edel Schaub Moss
Lucio Croce
Basel / Switzerland —  January 30, 2008 5:00am ET
Hi Mr. Suckling.I've a question for you... Have you ever heard about "Azienda Agricola Zym¿The winemaker of Zym¿s Celestino Gasparri (who cut his teeth working with Giuseppe Quintarelli)... He make an amazing Amarone and an unbelievable wine called "Harlequin" (made with 17 different kind of grapes)I can nowhere find a tasting note...You should taste it! ;O)Regards. Lucio Croce
Bruce Nichols
Naples, —  January 30, 2008 6:58am ET
JamesInteresting that you mention Cuba and wine in the same article. I have been tasting through number of wines to pair with an upcoming Chaine des Rotisseur event, themed "Havana Nights". Since I don't know of any Cuban wines, I am sticking to wines of South America. The problem is nothing to date I have tasted matches well with the beef tenderloin entree that is marinated with lime juice and seasoned with chile peppers. It is a fabulous dish (as were many of the wines!) on their own and the Chef would like to stick with this preparation.Any ideas?Bruce,Naples Florida
Miguel Lecuona
Austin, TX —  February 2, 2008 6:53pm ET
Bruce -- your Chef's dish sounds delicious. Since I grew up in South Texas, and since my dad is from Havana, I can tell you such a flavor profile has a lot more in common with San Antonio than with Havana, haha. That dish sounds like a gourmet upgrade to tex-mex fajitas, and will be a big hit. For pairing, my unsolicited advice -- don't fight the marinade. Quaff it with Cerveza Dos Equis or Bohemia, or at least have that available as an interesting off-topic option to a young Alma Viva or Marques de Casa Concha Cab, and don't worry about it. Tell them you have it on good authority!And if there are protests, then send a round of Patron shots through the room and light the night on fire. Wish I was going! Good luck.
Bruce Nichols
Naples, —  February 2, 2008 8:16pm ET
Back to the drawing board I went. After asking the Chef to tone down the lime juice (which he gladly did - gotta love those Ritz Carlton culinarians!), I paired it up with 2 wines both from the '03 vintage - the Antucura and Calvucura wines were both great matches. The Calvucura a 60/40 Melrot/Cab blend did slightly beter than the 50/50 Antucura. Great beef and Argentina reds - a marriage made in heaven!
Willy Pujals
Coral Gables —  February 6, 2008 9:52pm ET
James, both Tina & I are glad that you enjoyed dinner. We are going to take you up on the Tuscany thing real soon. Next time you come by we will do it all over again. Dave if you got your ears on, you are next!!!,

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.