1997 Napa Cabernet Tasting

This week I attended the Winetasters Society of Toronto’s monthly tasting held at the North York Civic Centre.  (I have a link to their website in my Blogroll.)  I’ve been a member of this group for a few years now, and I enjoy these tastings as they usually feature wines from older vintages that I would probably not have the opportunity to try otherwise.  I particularly enjoy their annual Christmas Party which is held at Casa Loma.  That’s when they bring out all the really big guns.  At these events I’ve had the opportunity to taste top quality wines from as far back as the 50s and 60s.  The last two years have even featured 100 year old Madeiras.  Now that is a real treat.  But, I digress.

The tasting this month was 1997 Napa Valley Cabernets.  1997 was a stellar year in Napa Valley.  The season started off with a warm spring that followed through into the summer.  Although it was warm, it was not stifling.  There was great ripeness in the grapes which were harvested in September and into October.  Because the weather was so perfect, there was a relatively large crop that year. 

The 1997 Cabernets we tasted were all what you would call some of the “GrandCrus” of Napa.  All of the wines were well over $50 a bottle, and that was when they were acquired by the Winetasters Society of Toronto  in 2001 or 2002.  I’m sure they’re worth much more now. I don’t want to think about what they would cost in a restaurant. All the wines were drinking well and I enjoyed all of them, but there were a couple that I was not as impressed with as the others.  Read my tasting notes below for more details.

All the wines were tasted blind.  We were given a list of the wines to be tasted but we didn’t know the order they were in.

1. Staglin Family Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon:  Staglin was established in 1985. This particular wine spent 27 months in new French oak.  It is an opaque ruby with a slight garnet tinge on the rim.  It has aromas of leather and chocolate with hints of dried figs and raisins.  Delicate scents of violets and roses are also present.  The palate confirms the nose with the dried fruit following through. It has mature, medium tannins and a bit of an animal character.  It has a long finish.  I really like this wine.  It was one of my favourites of the tasting. (Acquired in 2001 for $99.95)

2. Mondavi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap (unfiltered):  Founded in 1966 by the late great Robert Mondavi.  The winery was purchased in 2004 by Constellation.  It is a dark garnet colour, but the nose seems to be a bit closed right now.  There are aromas of leather and plums, but I think I was expecting a bit more from it.  It opens up a bit more in the mouth with flavours of vanilla and more dark fruit.   (Acquired in 2001 for $69.95)

3.  Markham Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon:Founded in 1977.  This wine is a medium-dark garnet colour and reveals aromas of dried strawberries and other dried fruit. It is very earthy and animally on the nose.  The palate shows more fruit with red and black berries.  It has fine tannins with a medium to long finish. (Acquired in 2001 for $75)

4.  Guenoc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bella Vista Vineyard: Not quite as garnet in colour as the Markham or Mondavi wines.  It exhibits aromas of green pepper, pencil shaving, mint and some cherry.  It is a bit tart on the palate with red fruit and smooth tannins.  This was one of my least favourite wines of the tasting as I tend to not like the under-ripe green pepper flavours and aromas that cabernets can sometimes have. (Acquired in 2004 for $75)

5.  Clos Du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges III:  The winery was established in 1972 and the Georges III is one of the original Napa vineyards.  The colour of the wine is a dark garnet and it shows aromas of dried flowers, raspberry, cassis, and something dusty.  (Could it be that famous “Rutherford dust”?)  On the palate the tannins seem to stand out more than in the others wines and the dried flowers  and fruit flavours follow through.  The length isn’t as long as I would like but this was still one of my favourite wines of the evening. (Acquired in 2001 for $69.99)

6.  Chappellet, Cabernet Sauvignon: Founded in 1967.  This wine has pronounced aromas of red fruit along with hints of flowers.  A bit of a leather characteristic is showing due to the age of the wine.  There is lots of fruit on the palate.  This is a very elegant wine with a smooth texture and fine tannins and a good, long finish.  This was one of my favourite wines of the tasting. (Acquired in 2001 for $59.90)

7. Cain Vineyards, Cain Five:  in 1997, the Cain Five blend was 87% Cabernet Sauvignon which is why it was allowed in this tasting.  Typically, Cain Five is a blend of all five Bordeaux varieties (Cab. Sauv., Cab. Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot).  On the nose there is quite a bit of animal, verging on barnyard with some evidence of dried black fruit.  It is quite smooth in the mouth with the animal character and dark fruit following through. (Acquired in 2002 for $99.95)

8.  Caymus Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon:  established in 1972.  I found distinct aromas of raisins and prunes on the suggesting that it may be slightly oxidized.  The same oxidized character follows through on the palate.  This was one of my least favourite wines of the tasting, although many of the other tasters in attendance really liked it.  (Acquired in 2001 for $99.95)

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