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2005 Napa Valley Cabernets

Posted by guest, May 7, 2008.

Back in February, Mark posted a summary of Vertical vs. Horizontal wine tasting . It was a clear and concise description of both; so, I'm not going to steal his thunder by repeating anything he wrote. However, I will ask the Snooth team to "link it up," as the one and only Gary Vay-ner-chuk does many times in his daily video blogs. What I will do is fulfill my promise to detail a "horizontal" tasting of 2005 Napa Valley Cabernets. So, here it goes.

First, the year. The vintage. When asked about the 2005 vintage, many a winemaker in Napa Valley will respond without thinking, "a huge crop." Production at most wineries was up. A long, cool growing season with late Spring rain and no heat spikes in the Summer produced large berries that matured slowly and in balance. In Spring 2006, James Laube wrote in the Spectator about the 2005 vintage when he barrel tasted 50+ wines (blind). Laube said the large crop was a detriment to quality but went on to compare it to the yields of the praiseworthy, exceptional, 1997 vintage. As discussed in these posts before, (wine) quality is in the mouth of the beholder - especially when a vintage follows one of great critical acclaim. The 2004 Napa Valley Cabernets have been touted for their incredible richness (density), power (structure) and complexity (depth). The 2005 wines had large scores to live up to especially when dealing with the challenges of a disparate growing season. So, immediately winemakers started to defend the 2005 vintage and do what all wine drinkers (enthusiasts and professionals) know how to do best, we make comparisons. And for 2005, comparisons were made to Bordeaux appellations up and down the left-bank of the Gironde and we were chuffed when these repeated cries were heard by wine critics who went on to print them in the pages of their newsletters and magazines -- thank you.

It is true, the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernets that I tend to gravitate to have a purity of red and black fruit wrapped in subtlety and nuance, grace and elegance. The wines of 2005 are approachable now and are drinking like you'd want them to drink when you are hovering above a piece of well-cooked red meat.

Let's get on with it.... Sometime in late March, at Larkmead, I gathered with colleagues and friends for a pot-luck barbeque that started with a cocktail party of oil-tanker sized proportions. Sixteen 2005 Napa Valley Cabernets (and blends) in the $45-$80 price range were tasted side by side. I won't give scores or rank my favorites (notes below are in alphabetical order). However, there may be a word, a phrase or a line or two that speaks to the wines I liked or disliked. So, enjoy and drink up.

Producer (Description/Appellation) Price.

Cakebread (Napa Valley) $65 - A bit green. Nose and palate a little harsh. Felt the tannins from the back to the front of my mouth.

Caymus (Napa Valley) $70 - Very focused aromatics. Soft and subdued linear movement through the mouth. Well worth a second sip, even a second glass.

Cliff Lede (Stags Leap) $50 - Approachable even as a big wine. A bit of Brett on the nose, but the texture in the mouth is soft and cedary with chewy tannins on the finish.

Covenant (Kosher/Napa Valley) $80 - A bit of parsley on the nose highlights the 'green' in this wine. Reminds me of the aromas of a wine during fermentation. Whole cluster to be exact, which tends to subdue the fruit characters with herbaceousness and spice. Never tasted anything like this from a Cabernet.

David Ramey (Larkmead Vineyards/Napa Valley) $80 - Ripe, over ripe and then extracted some more. Finishes very oaky, then green and then bitter. Over the top for my palate.

Fisher Vineyards (Cameron/Napa Valley) $55 - Soft on the nose and palate. Silky, as if you wrapped a silk scarf around your neck already adorned with a silk shirt. Dusty tannins front a long, sweet finish.

Garric Cellars (Napa Valley) $75 - Complex. Layered. Lean. Elegant. Balanced. Sweet. Everything you could every ask for from a wine (or a woman).

Joseph Phelps (Napa Valley) $55 - Ripe, vanilla, red raspberry cream. Same on the mid-palate. Then finishes with a refreshing, dry bitterness.

Larkmead Vineyards (Napa Valley) $55 - Review omitted due to bias.

Orin Swift (Papillion/Napa Valley) $55 - Wildly attractive packaging . The 5.4 lb bottle is 62% Cabernet, 19% Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot to finish. The gravitas of the packaging outshines the wine. (I need to taste it again from a brown paper bag to give it its full due.)

Pride (Spring Mountain) $65 - A bit green and disjointed right down the middle - like its appellation breakdown: 58% Napa Valley, 42% Sonoma. Possibly a fault in the wine or bottle variability. Would like to re-taste.

Shafer (One Point Five/Stags Leap) $70 - Lovely, lingering nose. Lean fruit, not sweet. Finishes with a comparable lingering, soft, bitter tannins.

Terra Valentine (Wurtele Vineyard/Spring Mountain) $55 - An outlier - young from start to finish but giving up good chalky tannins and fresh acidity. Ageworthy.

Turnbull (Oakville) $45 - Completely fruit driven with a soft, supple finish. Nothing profound about this wine, it is simply a crowd pleaser.

Vineyard 29 (Cru) $50 - If you love your asparagus wrapped in bacon and your filet dripping with blue cheese, this wine delivers the steakhouse complement - ripe and delicious... but somewhere, deep down inside it wants to be Bordeaux.

ZD (Napa Valley) $50 - Watery red fruit, short on the finish. Surprising as I have tasted many good stand-up wines from ZD before.


Reply by Mark Angelillo, May 7, 2008.

Great roundup, Dan. Looking forward to getting my hands on one or two of these -- any more and I might find myself skimping on dinner.

Reply by Philip James, May 7, 2008.

Great, thanks Dan - I've had a few of these, but its quite a dream list overall! Takes a brave soul to try and provide tasting notes for 20 wines in a vertical or horizontal tasting. I used to taste 20-30 white burgundies for an old job, and to try to think about how to write different notes for each would get harder and harder as i'd use up my limited vocabulary moving down the list

Reply by John Andrews, May 7, 2008.

Awesome list Dan ... and I love how you compared it to the much raved about 2004s. On my end of things (Sonoma Valley) 2005 was raved about as well. Many of the 05 in Sonoma have already been released and I love the vintage. Many varietals in seem to excel. However, Zins (one again) seem to be very high in alcohol.

I'll be in Napa this weekend so I'll keep my notebook handy and make plenty of notes on the 05 cabs I taste.

Reply by clintob, May 7, 2008.

The Caymus is out of this world. Frankly, every bottle I've tried has been phenomenal.

Blog comment by Dan, May 8, 2008.

Thanks, guys.

@Philip - please share your Burgundy notes!
@HJohn - let me know if you make it up to Calistoga, let me know, stop by Larkmead.

Reply by John Andrews, May 13, 2008.

@Dan ... would love to stop by Larkmead but it would only be on a weekend. I'll definitely give you a heads up when I'm heading back that way. I'm curious, have you tried the 2004 Ghost Block Cab? I got my allocation on it. :-)

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