Executive Wine Seminars Tasting: 2009 California Cabernets
The 2009 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon vintage evolved under ideal conditions until two strong storms hit the region in October. Quite simply, most of those who harvested before the rain made stupendous wines. For the rest, it was a mixed bag of quality. Still, discerning consumers are aware that if they choose well, they will be rewarded with superior cabernets from this vintage.
For this blind tasting, the EWS team assembled 13 of the most successful cabernets from the 2009 vintage for our tasting pleasure and intellectual scrutiny. All 13 of these wines came with great reviews and high ratings from the wine press. Our line-up included a combination of old favorites and exciting newcomers. We also added a 14th cabernet as a ringer, as the 2009 House of Cards is not commercially available with only a 25-case production. All wines were from the Napa Valley except for the Ridge Monte Bello, which is from the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation.
It turned out to be a very successful tasting, noticeably better and more enjoyable than the 2008 cabernets tasted a year ago. Those wines generally failed to get us excited, but the 2009s certainly did. In terms of ripeness, balance and pure enjoyment, the 2009s were clearly superior.
While all participants agreed that they preferred the 2009s, there was widespread disagreement as to which wines were the best. All 14 wines in this blind tasting received votes for 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place, a clear indication to us that the vintage is universally liked rather than simply a matter of isolated success stories. Yes, there was controversy, with attendees making the case for their favorites. However, all would agree that the 2009 California cabernets as a group were simply terrific. That said, four 2009s ran away from the pack: Ovid, Blankiet, Schrader and Vine Hill Ranch.
Wines were poured in three flights from numbered bags (1 through 14) and are listed below in the order in which they were poured. Participants were asked to vote (by number) for their three favorite wines. We award three points for every first-place vote, two for every second-place vote, and one point for every third, allowing for ties. (Voting tallies for each wine below show the number of first, second and third place votes it received.) Data is based on 39 voters. Our ratings are more reflective of the "here and now" than likely future development. Wines were opened at least three hours before being poured.
Please note that prices shown reflect average retail prices, as listed on WineSearcher, at the time of our tasting.
1) Tor Kenward Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard-Clone 6 Napa Valley – $150 – 9 points (1/2/2) – 92+ rating
Saturated medium-deep color. Open, attractive, floral, fruit-filled sweet cherry nose with chocolate and pepper mixed in. There's a lot of alcohol here as well. The aromatics keep improving with aeration. Very nice in the mouth, featuring intensity, complexity, richness, and noticeable tannins. This cab is beautifully textured and talc-y. There are elements of elegance and finesse here, but the wine needs a year or so to settle down. Very long, consistent finish.
2) Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Napa Valley – $375 – 28 points (6/4/2) – 96+ rating
Fairly deep color. Lovely, rich, dry, earthy, bacon fat nose is slow to build. This is an explosive wine in the mouth. The tannins hit us on entry and the acidity is exceptionally pronounced. It's a structural masterpiece, although wine #2 clearly needs time to grow. This cab hides its alcohol well, and is beautifully balanced overall given the Three Ring Circus that's going on in our mouths. Very long finish. Heaven would be this wine with a great steak!
3) Continuum Proprietary Red Napa Valley – $170 – 14 points (2/2/4) – 94 rating
Medium saturated color. Initially, the nose is quite shy, but it opens nicely with scents of cedar wood, earth, coffee, cinnamon, pepper and spice. Very impressive on the palate, with lots of gorgeous herbaceousness featuring tarragon and marjoram. This wine has excellent grip; really hunkers down on the palate. The finish is extremely long, with dry tannins at the back end. First-rate all the way through.
4) Hobel Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – $100 – 9 points (1/2/2) – 92+ rating
Deep color. Slowly evolving aromas eventually yield an interesting, oily, sweet butter, cigar box nose with some heat thrown in. The alcohol is prominent in the mouth as well, along with tremendous fruit extract. It's syrupy, blunt, tart and tannic right now, with a hollow middle palate. Still, it is a wine with outstanding structure. We are impressed with the milk chocolate creaminess in the extremely long finish. A good candidate for the cellar.
5) Colgin IX Estate Napa Valley – $425 – 15 points (1/2/8) – 93+ rating
Dark color. Lovely soft, floral, sweet, crème de cassis and cherry nose with some alcohol. In the mouth, this is a wine of terroir, earth and a bit of whole-cluster stemmy bitterness. We like #5's ripe fruit, richness and acidity. It's nicely balanced and certainly has the aromatics and flavors that say Napa cabernet. The long finish packs a punch. This wine will continue to develop.
6) Lewelling Cabernet Sauvignon Wight Vineyard Napa Valley – $95 – 5 points (1/0/2) – 91 rating
Medium, saturated color. Rich, ripe, expressive nose offers many notes, including cherry, chocolate, wet leaves, menthol and licorice. There is no sign of oak. Sweet on entry to the point where we hear murmurs that it's too sweet. This complex wine has nice flavors that recall raspberry, spice and black figs. The wine offers soft tannins and decent acidity. Long, consistent finish shows a bit too much alcohol. Very good, but maybe a little over the top to our taste.
7) Ovid Red Wine Napa Valley – $225 – 39 points (8/5/5) – 97+ rating
Fairly deep color. Rich, sweet nose is inviting, with scents that recall black cherry, licorice, forest floor and spice, with a touch of oak. Immediately compelling on entry, with a cornucopia of attributes. This wine has remarkable intensity and power. It is a structural powerhouse, built to last. The well-extracted fruit is beautifully integrated with the wine's acidity and tannins. Wine #7 is graceful and perfectly balanced. Very long, delicious finish. Everyone in the room loved this wine, which still has room to grow.
8) Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard Oakville Napa Valley – $160 – 14 points (1/5/1) – 93+ rating
Fairly deep color. Big, sweet, smoky, woody, briary, high-toned nose is appealing, with notes of cherry brandy and shoe polish. Very dark flavors in the mouth of bitter chocolate and black plum skins. This chewy wine is challenging and youthful, but we love it. It's sweet through the mid-palate and well-structured throughout. Long, consistent, persistent finish. This wine has a very bright future!
9) Maybach Cabernet Sauvignon Materium Weitz Vineyard Napa Valley – $195 – 10 points (2/2/0) – 92 rating
Fairly deep color. Bouquet reminds us of York Peppermint Patty, with smoke and tobacco in the background. In the mouth, we enjoy the sweet black cherry fruit flavors. Wine #9 shows intensity and nice overall balance, but there are minor complaints that it's over-extracted, overripe, and over-the-top. It's not a weighty wine either, at least compared with the competition. Long, pleasurable finish. Not among the favorites tonight, but Maybach certainly had some fans.
10) Blankiet Estate Proprietary Red Wine Paradise Hills Vineyard Napa Valley – $200 – 30 points (6/5/2) – 96+ rating
Fairly deep color. Aromatics are slow to unwind, but eventually we have a lovely, albeit soft nose. It's modern in style, with compelling dark berry fruit, chocolate and smoke. Much more impressive in the mouth; a complex wine with lots of extract and well-integrated tannins. This is a youthful wine that has excellent palate presence. It's a finesse wine, not too heavy, that offers Italian-like briary flavors and outstanding acidity. Balanced and beautiful, with a long, driving finish. Its best years are still ahead!
11) Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains – $160 — 19 points (4/3/1) — 94 rating
Medium-deep color. Gorgeous sweet cherry and cola syrup nose with chocolate, spice and a heavy dose of smoky oak. Rich, creamy and dry on entry, with wonderful fruit and lively acidity. But wine #11 saves its best for the back end, where it really comes on strong. There is something different and Pomerol-like about this wine that makes it stand out. Very long, delicious finish. First rate all the way!
12) Seaver Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon GTS Vineyard Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley – $150 – 10 points (2/1/2) – 91+ rating
Deep color. Attractive nose features intense ripe fruit, leather, smoke, mushroom and volatile alcohol. Big, blowsy and sweet on the palate; actually quite tight and youthful. Some participants are drawn to the wine's sweet flavors. Others are bothered by "sugar gone wild" and "Amarone-like" stewed prunes. The acidity and tannin levels are fine, leading to a long finish dominated by sugar and alcohol. This was our most controversial wine. Sorry Tom, both EWS honchos were not fans.
13) House of Cards Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Napa Valley – Not Commercially Available – 7 points (1/1/2) – 92 rating
Medium-deep color. Dusty black plum skin nose, with additional scents of cinnamon and spice. In the mouth, wine #13 is noticeably lighter in body than the others, and displays elegance. It's a concentrated cab with obvious dry tannins and decent acidity. Comparatively, the finish is a little short, but this was still a very good showing for a wine with a 25-case production, the project of a group of friends having some fun.
14) Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) – $195 – 23 points (3/5/4) – 95 rating
Fairly deep color. Beautiful expressive, sweet nose features macerated cherry fruit, smoke, earth, tar, spice and arguably a bit too much alcohol. Equally compelling on the palate, this is a focused wine with just the right amount of sweetness and perfect balance. One person described it as "velvet." The tannin and acidity levels are in harmony with the other components. With each return to the glass, wine #14 got better and better. Very long, consistent, flat-out delicious finish. Superb!
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