Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Testing the 1997 Vintage

Since the latest reuniting with my collection, I had to go through the laborious (yet fun) task of inventorying all my wines. During this, I discovered several individual bottles of the 1997 vintage (a case in total) that I decided were worthy of a 'horizontal' CA Cab tasting. For those of you not familiar with the term - horizontal - it refers to putting together several different wines of the same year/vintage (and preferably region) for comparison tasting. Vertical tasting refers to the same wine/winery of different successive years.

Anyway, I decided to invite a group out to share in the experience. As you can imagine, it was not hard to get a lot of takers to go out and taste a bunch of premium '97 California Cabs. I had read and heard various reports about the highly revered '97 vintage with very mixed reviews of the sustainability of these wines. Overall, the "word on the street" was DRINK NOW! OK, I'll oblige, if I have to.

So, we decided to make a go of it at the local restaurant that does not charge a corkage fee. Here was the line-up:

'97 Far Niente Cab
'97 Franciscan Magnificat Red
'97 Hess Collection Private Reserve (black label)
'97 Spring Mountain Reserve Cab
'97 Dry Creek Vineyards 'Epoch' Millenium Cuvee
'97 Cakebread Cab
'97 Bacio Divino Prop Red
'97 Beringer Alluvium Red

Without boring you with all of the details of the individual tastings, I'll provide the highlights of the 'event' in summary:

- Across the board, all the wines held up very well and with the exception of one that had a bit of leaky cork, the wines still had plenty of life

- The 100% Cabs seem to have held up a little better than the blends that had leaned out a bit

- Two wines in particular needed a lot of decanting time - the Far Niente and the Spring Mt.

- The "juiciest" of the wines was the Beringer Alluvium Red exhibiting the most upfront fruit

- The wine that held its structure the best was the Hess Collection Reserve

- The best food wines were the Franciscan Magnificat and Bacio Di Vino

- My overall winner was the Hess Collection Reserve - big fruit, structure, balance, got better with every sip, good with the meats, and still had legs to store longer if needed.

After reading so much about the '97 vintage and how it was under-performing, it was nice to get a chance to experience it for myself. I think the main thing is that with the huge expectations upon launch, it had nowhere to go but down. If I was to give the collective group a rating for the year, I'd put it in 92-94 category, which is still outstanding.

I've got a few more '97's to try along the way here that includes some more revered brands such as Harlan, Staglin, Caymus, Mondavi, Justin, La Jota and many more. So, I'll gladly report back as I begin to pop these during the holiday season.

In the meantime, I'll just have to suffer opening a myriad of other 90's cabs to sort through the collection to find the missing gems...tough work I know, but someone has to do it. Never has the cliche - "so much wine and so little time" - been more appropriate with the job at hand.

Once again, I'm getting lots of volunteers to assist in this tedious project. Hmmm, good to be popular in this respect I guess. Cheers!

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later.

Chief Wino