Spottswoode. It’s a name, particularly when paired with Cabernet Sauvignon, that tends to elicit a uniformly impressed reaction from wine lovers across a broad spectrum of palate preferences. "Why is that?" one is tempted to ask. Are the wines simply that appealing? Is there something inherently there that makes these true Napa classics? Or is there something more to the story, perhaps an evolution of style that allows so many different people to applaud the wine, though perhaps wines of a different period? There is of course only one way to find out: vertical tasting!

And so it was that I sat down with nine friends to sample most of the Spottswoode’s vintages of the 1980s and 1990s. This really was a great range of vintages, both in that it included some milestone vintages for Napa Valley, and in the sense that this covers the range of vintages that one might assume are fully mature. The wines showed erratically at best, which is to be expected with wines this old. Only great bottles, not great wines, as they say.