Wine Talk

Snooth User: oceank8

1995 California Cab Tasting

Posted by oceank8, Oct 9, 2008.

I went to a tasting the other day that I was excited about, so I decided to share it with all of you. As much as I love wine, I almost never get to taste anything over about $70. This tasting was considered a "high end" tasting, which was very unique to me. Many of you have probably had these wines and much better, but it was a first for me. I got to taste the following (all '95 Cabs.):

BV Georges de Latour
Whitehall Lane
Silver Oak
Phelps Insignia
Chateau Montelena
Philip Togni

Based on Snooth rankings, the only one I gave a 5 was the Phelps Insignia. It was a GREAT wine (but I will probably never own any, since it was retailing at $190). The Philip Togni actually received a 1 from me, WAY too green, not enjoyable to my palate (certainly won't be buying that one at $150)! The rest ranged from 3-4 glasses for me.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. I learned that although there are some great wines out there in the high end range, there are plenty in the $20 range that I like even better. I also began to realize that Cabs aren't my first choice for wine drinking. Here's hoping for the opportunity to taste some more great wines in the future!

What are all of your thoughts on these wines specifically, or "high end" wines in general?


Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 9, 2008.

Great take on the event Ocean! The Togni is always a bit on the green side but ages spectacularly well. I would have to try these again and as a group to be fair but the Montelena typically is my favorite but agree totally that the Insignia can be great wine. In the past Phelps two other premium bottling, the single vineyard Backus and Eisele were priced about halfway between the Insignia and the regular Napa bottling. Those were some killer wines and they continue to drink well. The beat out many a super-premium bottling in many a tasting!

Many, perhaps even a majority of the really high-end wines are among the best of their type, the point you address though is, is that your type? I am not a fan of the current California Cult Cabernet style of wine. They are over the top for me so in a way I am lucky, I can enjoy many less expensive wines.

For example, Eberle in Paso Robles makes an excellent Cabernet and a Reserve cab that can compete with the big boys. The base bottling selss for $15-20, the reserve about $65. What does that extra money get you? Well for starters it usually gets you brand spanking new, high quality oak barrels from France which with todays current exchange rate come to about $1000 per 225 liter barrel. That adds over $3.00 per bottle. For us out here in NYC with our three tier distribution system that means an additional $10 at retail. Add in a better cork, $.50, fancy bottle, $1.00, fancy label, $.25 and that adds another $6.00 and we haven't even mentioned the wine.

Ideally with these high end bottling you are getting better fruit. The viticulturalists have done a round or tow of green harvesting, cutting green bunches off the vines, that yields greatly reduced quantities of concentrated juice. The selction before the crush, see Dans great series on that in the blog forum; requires greater attention, more man-hours. These little things add up to greater expenses and lower yields.

The only way to make up the difference is to pass along the costs to us, the consumers!

If you like the style and have the money you may very well be thrilled with the results. For me, I am used to leaner, more structured wines and find many wines from Italy for under $20-25 that hit my sweet spot! In general the "high-end" California wines don't do it for me.

One aside here is that the winemaking style at many wineries in California has changed significantly since the early to mid 80's. Strangely enough, and very luckily for me, many of the older Cabernets are priced lower than the current or recent releases. I am thrilled to be drinking wines from, roughly, 1975-1985 ,a golden age for California. These are wines that have better balance than many contemporary bottlings and are in my sweet spot along their maturity curve. I pick them up with regularity for around $50/bottle. Long live the current high end craze!

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