Friday, March 27, 2009

1999 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical

For months I had been plotting a big Cabernet dinner at home. A few weeks ago I we finally put a date in the books and had a few friends over to open some of the first wines I started to collect which were from the 1999 vintage. We also had a few others with a 1997 Napa Cabernet and two top flight California Pinot Noirs. We had a great 4 course meal in a sit down format.


A great meal, but for simplicity's sake I will be brief. The real star of the meal (and focus of this blog) was the wine. The four courses in serving order were as follows:

Pear and gorgonzola mixed leaf salad
Sear Sea Scallops over Garlic and Butter Linguine
Beef Wellington & Herbed Fingerling Potatoes
Caramel & Apple Spice Cake


1999 Napa Cabernet Vertical
1999 Duckhorn Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA
1999 Cinq Cepages Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma, CA
1999 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA
1999 St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

Non-1999 and Non-Cabernet
1997 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyards
2004 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, CA
2006 William Selyem Russian River Pinot Noir, Sonoma, CA
1997 Niepoort Porto Vintage Port Wine, Portugal

So, why the 1999's? I had no clue what I was doing when collecting wines until about the 1999 vintage. I had sporadically collected some 1997s and a few 1998s, both polar opposite vintages in quality. I was a little too late for 1997 and had to treasure hunt to find the 1997 wines I wanted (and could afford at the time as I was only about 25 years old - this is how I found ""). 1998 was a very wet and rainy vintage and the wines had showed to be thin and not all that great. Now, I do not want to be a vintage snob so I will say I have had some really good 1998 Napa Cabernet wines, but not many and most are now peaking or just past their peak.

Then I moved back to NY and that was when the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage from Napa Valley hit the market. It was a great vintage with wines characterized as well balanced, great fruit and concentration, with intact acid levels and ripe but firm tannins to provide a great backbone of structure. The only bad thing was it was a small crop and prices thus went up and they have not stopped going up. It was also probably the last full year before the majority of winemakers, especially new ones, started or in some cases tried to make big and ripe wines. By 2001 that style was en vogue: alcohol levels sky rocketed and acidity dropped from the wines. But 1999 is not that and a great classic Napa vintage. We all enjoyed these wines as they were nicely mellowed from age and showing the maturity of a nice Napa Cabernet.

Tasting Notes:

1999 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, California, Napa Valley)

Wow, still holding its own all these years. This was a great example of a '99 that retained a lot of its youth and structure. The flavor profile on this was darker fruits and bigger tannins than the other 1999 cabernet we consumed on 2/15.

Color: Dark opaque core, dark red edges.

Nose: Blackberry, dark plum, kirsch and rich oak aromas.

Palate: More blackberry, black cherry, black currants intertwined with some tobacco and leather. Big ripe tannins are receding. Nice and rich classic Napa finish...brought me back to tasting wine in Napa.

1999 Duckhorn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown (USA, California, Napa Valley)

OK, so this wine has some bad notes...(on - THE greatest place to catalog, find out maybe when to drink, and track your wine collection and tasting notes). Therefore I was not expecting much but was pleasantly surprised after an hour once the wine started to show signs of life and blossom. It was dead when I opened it, not aroma, little flavor. This first time I had this back in 2003 and it took about 4 hours for this wine to pop and reveal its aromas and flavors. This was my last bottle and was hoping for the best, what did I have to lose?!

The comments were pretty dire as being a dead wine. Upon opening and tasting this wine I got NOTHING. No aromas, minimal favors, and no finish. I had readied myself and was not too disappointed but I gave it another chance in a decanter before I used it to make the bordelaise sauce. I immediately decanted it and within 45 minutes it blossomed nicely and carried its weight through to the end 5 hours later. I was afraid it would not last based on how rapidly it opened up. This ended up being a crowd favorite: delicious, mellow and holding its own.

Color: Dark red core, lighter red/garnet edges

Nose: Sweet oak, cherries, sweet chocolate, whiffs of aged cabernet, but less than I expected.

Palate: More ripe cherries, aged herbal flavors like sage and sweet tobacco, a touch of leather, but rich oak and the cherries make this wine sing. Very mellow, smooth and polished.

I may have gotten lucky so drink up!

1999 St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, California, Napa Valley)

Excellent. I was very surprised by how much it was still intact. It was drinking like it had 4-5 years of great drinking left. Youthful mocha and cherry, some more aged aromas and flavors of herbs and tobacco. Still kicking! I have one more bottle of this left and will be opening by the end of the year. Why not, it’s drinking great now. It’s probably too old to get any better and why risk it getting worse?

Color: Medium red center, ruby edges

Nose: Aged notes of cedar, leather and dried red fruits

Palate: Youthful mocha and cherry, some more aged aromas and flavors of herbs and tobacco.

1999 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Cinq Cepages (USA, California, Sonoma County)

Initially when released this wine was very complex and structured - it has paid well its dividends. In fact, it still is a very structured wine and I think it can easily go at least another 5-7 years and still retain some of its youth. My initial impression was that it could have used a decant - I would be prepared to do so if you are to open one soon. I was all out with my other 3 decanters in use. It was however open for 2 hours before it was even dented.

Color: Dark core, purple black, dark red edges - by eye I would swear this was a 2004 or later!

Nose: Tight, hinting at first of currants and cherries, some earth, cigar wrapper - an almost rawness to the nose - very complex. Needs a decant, had 3 already in use for our dinner party!

Palate: Immediately you taste the complexity and depth this wine has maintained. Cassis and black cherry, cigar wrapper, a nice herbal component I could not put my finger on. Great, long finish. Give this wine some time to either age more or open up fully...please be patient with this one!

1997 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyards (USA, California, Napa Valley)

My last bottle of this too! Delicious and showing very well still. Opened for 2 hours, no decant as it showed well from the bottle.

Color: Dark red, ruby edges

Nose: Rich cherries and red currants, some spice and a touch of age.

Palate: Youthful fruit still remains, tannins are supple and soft. Full of cherries, currants, cedar and some sage in the background. Supple fine tannins finish this off quite nicely!

2004 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Southing (USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills)

I absolutely love this wine. I think that Sea Smoke makes my favorite Pinot from the new world, it’s unlike anything from Burgundy (which I also love but you can't compare them as they are different in every way soup-to-nuts). Rich but not weighty, complex and structured, generously reveals layers of flavors. I would open at least 1 hour before consuming, 2 if you can stand it! This wine is really starting to hit its stride, can easily go another 3-5 years or so.

Color: Dark black/red core, dark ruby edges.

Nose: Rich crushed black cherries, black raspberry, spice and oak.

Palate: Ripe cherries, black raspberry, some ripe blueberry notes, a touch of mocha from the oak. Long 45+ second finish!

2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley)

Man this went fast! Very easy to drink and very tasty! Lots of cherry and acidity keep you coming back.

Color: Ruby red, light red edges.

Nose: Cherries, lots of cherries and sweet oak, maybe a touch of dried cranberry. Surprising strength considering its lighter color.

Palate: Rich ripe cherries, sweet oak, some earthy loaminess. Not overly complex, but very enjoyable and tasty.

1997 Niepoort Porto Vintage (Portugal, Douro, Porto)

Based on my research on this wine I had to open it at least 12 hours, I figured 24 hours would do!

2/14 4PM:
Initial Observation: Opened at for consumption on 2/15 for post dinner. Resealed with an airtight artificial sealer gizmo that pumps out the air. Dark center with ruby red edges with the slightest tinge of brown. Very vibrant but a tad cloudy after 24 hours upright. This Port indeed has a lot of life left from the initial observation. Red fruits and spicy cedar on the nose. A bit of bite on the first taste. Not overly sweet at all. The sweetness is in harmony with the fruit, alcohol and tannins. I will try to buy vintage port going forward! Superb red berry finish.

2/15 2pm:
Alcohol still bites but the cedar and red fruits have enhanced and more of the classic port aromas come through.

2/15 9pm:
Started to consume after dinner with Lisa’s amazing dessert. The group loved it as most it was their first vintage port. You can tell the pedigree by the composition. Rich, complex, still very youthful.

Overall assessment: DO NOT touch this for at least 10 years! It was delicious but still very tight as its still too young.


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:32 AM

    Koby - Great report on what sounds like a great affair. Lucky friends of yours. I appreciate the info on the cabs. I have some left of the 99 Cinq and Whitehall and was anticipating your information on them. Sounds like we invested well. I have a little over 4 cases left of 17 different offerings of the 99 from Cakebread to Staglin Family. Have not experienced a questionable bottle yet and each one seems better than the last. I enjoy your blog. Ted Hunt Fort Lauderdale.


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