Can Napa valley cabs age? American experts are convinced and those of you who have attended the many California Cab tastings at Les Conseillers du Vin are aware that these sun soaked wines can improve with age. Not as rich and jammy as 94 and 97, the 95 Cabs offer great balance, elegance, good structure and that terroir characteristic that is often masked by the abundant fruit of youth. At age 20, some of the fruit has faded letting the terroir speak.
@ Les Conseillers du Vin, we tasted a selection of wines from reputed producers to verify the evolution, richness and balance of this excellent Napa Cab vintage. Should we drink up or leave these fine Cabs in our cellar? A group of 16 experienced tasters analysed 7 California Cabs plus a mystery wine in the usual blind tasting format.
Results: Overall the wines faired extremely well! To establish the order of preference of the tasting panel, 3 points were awarded to a first place vote, 2 pts for a 2nd place vote and 1pt for a 3rd place vote.
Most of the participants agreed that wine # 1 was the clear cut winner: Robert Craig with 23 points was the most complex and ready in this high quality group. Finishing second and third were Schweiger (18 pts) and Vine Cliff (15 pts), both wines showing good concentration and great balance. The mystery wine, Château Ferrand-Lartigue, was disappointing and five (5) participants identified it as the odd man out. Maybe not the best bottle! We can conclude by saying that 1995 is a very good and long lived vintage for Napa Cabs. Most of the wines served in the tasting displayed good depth and concentration with great evolution. Still quite alive, a few wines showed they could continue to evolve favourably: Robert Craig, Vine Cliff, Von Strasser and Schweiger. Caymus and Shafer seemed at their peak, while the Beringer Private Reserve was unfortunately slightly corked. My top three wines were: 1-Von Strasser, 2-Schweiger, 3-Robert Craig.
The wines : Order of blind tasting:
1- Robert Craig, Mount Veeder (Group score: 23 pts)
The favourite wine of the group! Quite deep colour, looks still young. Mineral earthy scents dominate. Lovely ripe flavours, with soft acidity and good length. Ready to drink, surprisingly soft for mountain fruit! My rating: 92+
2- Caymus, Napa Valley (Group score: 14 pts)
Still deeply coloured. Forrest floor, some graphite and cocoa/coffee scents. Sweet ripe flavours. Full and rich, good balance, some freshness. A soft and ready to drink Cab! My rating: 91
3- Château Ferrand Lartigue 1995 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru (Group Score: 0 pt)
The disappointing wine of the tasting! Another bottle recently tasted showed much better. Five (5) participants identified it as the mystery wine. Unfortunately 12 tasters put it down as a disappointment. This bottle showed too much evolution/oxidation. A bit firm and austere on the finish. My rating: 87
4- Shafer, Stag’s Leap District (Group score: 12 pts)
Deeply coloured. Good extract offering sweet flavours. Some ripe fruit with mineral and animal scents. Surprising high acidity but remains balanced. Medium + length, ready to drink. My rating: 89
5- Vine Cliff, Oakville (Group score: 15 pts)
In a very elegant full bodied style. Fresh acidity, good structure and extract with a lingering bitterness. Vegetal and mineral terroir characteristics. Still some potential, drink now or over the next 3 to 4 years. My rating: 92
6- Schweiger, Spring Mountain (Group score : 18 pts)
The most deeply coloured wine. Graphite terroir scents with hints of vegetal and black licorice. A rather typical cab from mountain fruit: lots of structure (tannins and acidity) with good extract. Still some potential (3 to 4 years). Very good balance and length. My rating: 93
7- Von Strasser, Diamond Mountain (Group score: 11 pts)
My favourite wine of the tasting! Also from mountain fruit, this solid effort is well structured and should continue to evolve favourably for another decade. Full bodied with firm tannins and a long lasting finish. My rating: 94
8-Beringer Private Reserve, Napa Valley (Group score: 3 pts)
Unfortunately a bit of cork on the nose. Stopped with what looked like a poor quality cork. Because of its great mouthfeel and richness, It could have been one of the best wines of the tasting? My rating: 90?
Photo: Nick Hamilton