The wines as ranked by the players:
12 - 2005 Simi Alexander Valley 13.5% - $ 20
11- 2005 Dry Creek Valley Vineyard The Mariner 13.9% $40
10 - 2005 Duckhorn Cabernet – 14.5% - $75
9 - 2005 Rodney Strong Reserve Alexander Valley 14.8% $50
8 - 2006 Toasted Head North Coast Cabernet - 13.5% - $15
7 - 2004 Simi Reserve Alexander Valley – 14.5% - $50
6 - 2005 Bennett Lane Cabernet 14,7% - $60
5 - 2005 Rodney Strong Symmetry Alexander Valley 14.9% - $50
4 - 2005 Bennet Lane Maximus Feasting Wine – 14.5% - $30
3 - 2006 Pedroncelli Three Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Cabernet 13.8% - $17
2 - 2004 Dry Creek Vineyards Endeavor 13.9% $50
1 - 2005 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet – 14.4% - $50
Cheryl – Wine Enthusiast
Philip – Wine Professional
Jim – Wine Professional – Retail
Ali – Wine Professional - Retail
Rachel – Wine Enthusiast
John – Wine Professional – Production
Rodolphe – Wine Professional – Retail
We sat down this Sunday evening for Snooth's finale Panel Tasting Program event of the year, a blind tasting of California Cabernet Sauvignon based wines.
This was an exciting tasting. The price point for many of these wines is way above the usual price points at our tastings but that will often have to be the case with California Cabernet. One of the main knocks on the wine is not that the quality is low but rather that the prices are so high.
In an effort to ameliorate that situation, as well as with full understanding of the relative values, I chose to focus on the wines of neighboring Sonoma County for this tasting. In some respects I was vindicated in my choice but the single Napa flight had a pair of very strong showings.
Another surprise for the participants in this tasting was that the laggards over all were two very well respected producer, one each from Napa and Sonoma so there is no accounting for quality, especially if one is to judge by a brand's popularity.
There are of course both significant as well as subtle differences between the wines of the two counties but this was too small a sample to reach many definitive conclusions. Philip was spot on when he identified the Napa Valley flight and the big, jammy fruit that those wines presented was as much of a dead give away as one could get.
In general the Sonoma bottlings were more elegant and subtle yet some of these wines are closer to the Napa paradigm than the old school, red cherry fruited, medium bodied wines that were once standard Sonoma bottlings.
Even at these prices it could be argued that we uncovered some values, in fact with our first “value flight” we certainly did. It may be tough for many to rationalize spending this kind of money of wine but if you should want to, either for yourself or a friend, we hope that our selections and opinions can help steer you towards a successful purchase! My tasting notes can be found
Flight 1 – Sonoma Entry level wines
1) 2005 Simi Alexander Valley 13.5% - $ 20 Groups 12th my 12th
There was a fair degree of consensus for this wine with Philip, Jim and Rodolph all commenting on the wine's “green, weedy” aspect with Philip adding it was “dry and earthy” while Jim felt this “wasn't very exciting.” Ali also “didn't get a whole lot out of this” wine but caught some classic vanilla and cassis notes while John noticed “dark red fruits, licorice, and a candy aroma. All in all this wine lagged the group and while perfectly serviceable was a disappointment.
2) 2006 Toasted Head North Coast Cabernet - 13.5% - $15 Groups 8th my 11th
Rachel certainly didn't like this wine which she described as “fruity pebbles on the nose. It's sickeningly sweet indistinct fruit taste tongue numbingly of eucalyptus!” Jim liked this wines “good tannic structure” though Ali thought this to be lacking in structure though she enjoyed the cocoa and blueberry tones. This wine was a bit of a lightweight that got lost in the crowd.
3) 2006 Pedroncelli Three Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Cabernet 13.8% - $17 Groups 3rd my 5th
We had some solid consensus here with Ali getting “tar, violets and lead pencil on the nose. This has really good structure and finishes with black tea and cola notes.” While no one liked it as much as Ali at first it grew on the tasters with Rachel finding it “really short at first, it left me wanting more but developed an earthy, forest floor quality.” Philip also found this to be “very woodsy” and Rodolphe noted “ oak, red fruit, and floral notes though more oak and blackberry in the mouth.” While everyone found something to like here it neither bowled anyone over nor did it really loose anyone's interest. A stealthy winner!
Flight 2 – Napa Valley Mid-level wine
4) 2005 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet – 14.4% - $50 Groups 1st my 3rd
As we moved the price ladder and east into Napa Valley Cheryl found much more to like noting “ I'd be glad to have this by itself, it fantastic!” Philip found this to be “silky, soft and supple with lots of sweet fruit” which Jim characterized as cassis, blackberry and cedar in an elegant style.” Rodolphe also noted the “sweet cassis fruit with rich chocolate notes and a smooth sweet finish.” This was definitely a crowd pleaser!
5) 2005 Duckhorn Cabernet – 14.5% - $75 Groups 10th my 10th
In contrast to the last wine this caught a lot of heat for it's “very sweet, indistinct and muddled” character as Rachel put it. Rodolphe found this to be “dark and inky and it finished really oddly with astringency and sweetness at the same time.” John found “peppermint tic-tacs” on the nose and continued “ this doesn't have the intensity of the other wines and it's lacking in acid.” Cheryl felt this showed “lots of wood and it's not green but more vegetal.” This was a disappointment to many.
6) 2005 Bennett Lane Cabernet 14,7% - $60 Groups 6th my 4th
While there was dissent here there was also praise. Jim felt this “shows pretty good structure but it's soupy and over-ripe.” John found this to be “very jammy, overpoweringly fruity in a sweet raspberry jam way. It reminds me of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel!” Philip alos felt this was “too fruity, on balance it's too sweet”. Cheryl enjoyed the fruit which she characterized as “café au lait and deep dark cherry” but she did add “ it's slightly acidic.” This was verging on being a fruit bomb but if it's your style it's pretty impressively endowed!
Flight 3 – Meritage!
7) 2005 Bennet Lane Maximus Feasting Wine – 14.5% - $30 Groups 4th my 6th
64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah
Cheryl was neutral here damning with faint praise “ it's smooth, with a long finish and some sweetness is definitely there. I can't say that I love it.” Rachel was more to the point noting that “ while I got mint and floral at first this was very hot. I didn't like this it also had too much oak.” Ali also found this to be “oaky and tight at first with a savory quality on the nose and even though the tannins are quite drying it turned out balanced and nice.” Philip also felt “the tannins came across well”. The mouthfeel really seemed to grab people.
8) 2005 Rodney Strong Symmetry Alexander Valley 14.9% - $50 Groups 5th my 2nd
71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot
Cheryl was almost neutral here noting “ it's smooth with a long finish and there is definitely a sweetness here but I can't say I love it.” Philip also commented on the long finish and found “ walnuts, black fruit, dates, and eucalyptus “ on the complex nose. Ali noticed that this was “ oaky and tight at first with a savory quality on the nose and even though the tannins are drying it's balanced and nice.” This was a seductive wine that sneaked up in many tasters.
9) 2005 Dry Creek Valley Vineyard The Mariner 13.9% $40 Groups 11th my 8th
46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc
This elicited divergent opinions with Rodolphe finding “spice, ash, barnyard and lots of extracted tar on the nose and big spice and plum in the mouth” John, on the other hand, noted “this is musty and not in a good way, it's very veggy.” Rachel thought it smelled of “worchestershire sauce” while Ali went with “ smoke, ketchup and paste sauce!” Cheryl noted “ sweet and goes down like water with no finish!” This evolved well later that night but sure went through a difficult period, that Jim called “ green, unripe, short and tannic,” during the tasting.
Flight 4 – Sonoma County Reserve wines
10) 2005 Rodney Strong Reserve Alexander Valley 14.8% $50 Groups 9th my 7th
John found lots of “ cigar smoke, spice and bar-b-q smoked meats” on the nose while Rachel struggled with this wine finding it “closed a bit though smoky and jammy in a non-descript way.” Jim commented on the “dusty tannins” and felt this was “ really showing very tannic at the moment.” Philip felt this offered “thick, lush black fruits” in “a real powerhouse” style. For the most par people had difficult evaluating this wine so it sort of fell by the wayside.
11) 2004 Simi Reserve Alexander Valley – 14.5% - $50 Groups 7th my 9th
Rodolphe captured the thoughts of many on this wine by saying “ they hit all their marks but in the end there is something missing here.” John phrased it by saying “ this let me down, it didn't fulfill what the aroma was heading into.” Ali though found this to be “fresh and balanced with a long clean finish and an overall clean quality.” Philip enjoyed the “ cigar box nose” though found this to be “ pretty drying with a spicy finish.” While o one was wowed by this wine no one was really turned off by it either.
12) 2004 Dry Creek Vineyards Endeavor 13.9% $50 Groups 2nd my 1st
Philip was the lone dissenter with this wine finding it “ musty like a compost heap with candied fruit and a dry, tannic finish.” Jim on the other hand noted “ this is full of tar and dark fruits and has a silky, elegant feel.” Cheryl enjoyed the “nice, sweet raspberry fruit” while found a “little bit of peat in here, I'm liking it quite a bit.” While Rodolphe found this to be “ very tannic” he also noted that it offered “ tar, leather, and coffee notes.” This is a big, bad boy that moved from strength to strength throughout the course of the evening.
Gregory Dal Piaz is the Community Manager at Snooth, an avid Wine Geek with a passion for things Italian, and a long suffering Mets fan.