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Senior editor James Laube, Wine Spectator's expert on the wines of California, joined the magazine in 1983.
James Laube

A Happy Reunion With a Wine of the Year

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Cinq Cépages 1996

James Laube
Posted: August 2, 2010

Few things in wine are as frustrating as experiencing difficulties with a great bottling that you’re long on. That’s been the case for me with the 1996 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 1999.

With a 95-point rating, 11,000 cases made and a $28 price tag, it was one of the easier picks we’ve made over the years. Since this Sonoma County wine was so delicious and readily available, I bought two cases so I could share the wine experience with friends as often as possible.

For the first decade or so, it consistently drank exceptionally well, never once letting me down. Then for several years it went through a phase where it typically offered less depth, fruit and complexity. I’ve tried perhaps six bottles from the winery itself, and on those occasions it seemed to lack a little pizzazz.

This California red has always been Bordeaux-like in its structure, concentration and finesse. Indeed, the name Cinq Cépages comes from the use of the five major grapes used in Bordeaux. Chateau St. Jean sourced grapes for this wine from throughout Sonoma County.

About a year ago, Dan Gustafson, a longtime friend, brought a bottle to dinner, and somehow the host forgot to open it that night. Months passed before we uncorked it at another dinner, and it was delicious. Dan had worked for St. Jean and kept the bottle well stored. It was complex, layered, elegant and refined, with cedary cigar box, tobacco, currant and black licorice—trim and tapered. It was nice to see it in tip-top shape. 93 points, non-blind.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting and retrospective tasting reviews for Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Cinq Cépages 1996, (95, $28 on release).

• Plus, get our quick list of Top Values among California Cabernets.

Joseph Balesteri
River forest, Illinois, usa —  August 2, 2010 10:23pm ET
James - I have one bottle left. Thanks for the reminder and your excellent guidance over the years. Joe
Mark Horowitz
Brooklyn, USA —  August 2, 2010 11:36pm ET
Because of the ease in obtaining Cinq Cepages and it's relatively painless price tag, I have assembled a vertical of sorts, with vintages from 96 through 02.
Any comments on the drinkability of younger vintages from any of those years?
Thomas Kobylarz
Hoboken, NJ —  August 3, 2010 12:02am ET
I had the 1999 recently and it was excellent!
Mark Horowitz
Brooklyn, USA —  August 3, 2010 12:35pm ET
Thanks, Thomas.
Years ago, I worked with someone with that same family name...uncommon enough that it was probably a family member of yours.
Paul Manchester
Santa Cruz, CA —  August 3, 2010 1:56pm ET
Sounds good to me. Unfortunately the $28 price tag turned out to be false. I'm not sure where you guys found it at that price, but when I tried to actually buy this wine the price had shot up to $80 within days of the release of the 95 point W.S. score. I bought a couple anyway and they were definitely awesome. Just wish they didn't raise the price so dramatically.
Gary Cohn
Cardiff by the Sea, Calif. —  August 4, 2010 5:18pm ET
I also had the 1999 a couple of months ago & it was better than I ever remembered. Enjoy!

Paul, when the 96 came out you could order it direct from the winery for $28.00 + shipping. That is how I bought mine.

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