Tue 21 Aug 2012
At the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012, the Napa Valley Vintners Association presented a tasting of some of the top Napa cabernet sauvignon wines from 2002. This event precipitated happiness in many hearts and minds and palates, first, because most people don’t get many opportunities to taste 10-year-old cabernets, and, second, because 2002 was an excellent vintage that produced wines of intensity and concentration, depth and complexity, though with fairly prominent tannins; the year suffers a bit in comparison to 2001, which with its magnificent purity, dimension and balance is one of the best vintages in California’s history. Forget that quibble though; this little tasting was fun, even with what seemed like 100 people gathered in a hotel room, all reaching for the bottles arrayed on a table. These are going to be quick mentions rather than full reviews. The order is that of my tasting; no hierarchy is involved. The prices cited are average for the country. Mainly limited in production, these are not cheap wines, but benchmarks never are.
1. Far Niente. Deep purple color, opaque at the center; very lively, spicy and earthy; dense chewy velvety tannins; burgeoning hints of lavender, black licorice and bittersweet chocolate; powerful intensity and concentration yet deliriously sensuous on the tongue. Best from now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $144.
2. Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. I’m not always a fan of this wine, but for 2002 I think it’s fabulous. Beautiful balance, a sort of sweet aching poise between sheer sizable presence and lovely detailing; tannic, yes, but rolling and finely tuned, the pent energy of an XKE at idle; graphite, iron and iodine; deep, dense, chewy but with a high polish and intensely concentrated sweet black fruit. Now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. My first favorite. About $125.
3. Beaulieu Vineyards Georges De Latour Private Reserve. Profound in every sense; profoundly deep and earthy, profoundly iron-like in minerality with a modicum of the compensating velvet element; very dry, a trove of dusty, slightly leathery tannins; lacks the Lafite-like surface sheen that BV Private Reserve offers at its best. Give it a couple more years and then drink through 2018 to ’22. Very Good+. About $96.
4. Opus One. Pretty damned fathomless in its depth of dense dusty earthy and brooding tannins and granitic mineral qualities; imposing, majestic in black drapery but a little truculent; pretty damned unyielding even at almost 10 years; glimmers of intense and concentrated black fruit etched with spice and flowers, but I wouldn’t try until 2014 or ’15 and then drink through 2020 or ’24. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $250.
5. Spottswoode Estate. Black cherry and plum compote, a bit fleshy and roasted, broad and deep earthy and iron-like mineral influence but sleek and burnished; finely-milled tannins, somehow both hard and soft; a sense of intensity and compactness leaking into expansiveness and generosity; absolutely beautiful cabernet. Now — please with a steak — through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. My second favorite. About $206.
6. Dyer Diamond Mountain. Whoa, unlimber the backhoe for these huge, impenetrable tannins; perhaps the most intense and concentrated of this selection of Napa Valley cabs from 2002; no denying its brilliantly dynamic character, its revelation of the pungent and pregnant darkness of the grape, but I wouldn’t touch it until 2014 or ’15. I’ll speculate a potential rating of Excellent, but for now Very Good+. About $62.
7. Corison. It’s testimony to the fine character of the wine and perhaps to the affection and regard with which Cathy Corison is held, but this was the first bottle at the tasting to be consumed, much to the consternation of those waiting eagerly in line. Again, a cab monumental in structure, truly so resonant and dynamic that it practically shimmers in the glass, though the energy is tempered somewhat by the authoritative yet gentle proportion and balance of its all elements. Remarkable purity, intensity and grace. Now or 2013 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. My third favorite. About $95 and, considering the company, Great Value.
8. Pride Reserve. Wrong about #6; the Pride Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the biggest, hugest and most enormously tannic, mineral-laden, the most intense and concentrated of these wines. Will it ever soften and mature and allow the fruit to come forward? I’m not certain about that. No rating; just wait, patiently, as for Godot, drinking other wines to pass the time. About $207.
9. Spring Mountain Elivette Reserve. Oh damn, oh joy; what a beautiful cabernet. Polished and sleek, deep, dark and spicy; the iron and iodine and slightly minty syndrome happily married to gushing black currant, black cherry and plum fruit bolstered by massive, hard-edged yet paradoxically velvety tannins and a smoldering core of potpourri, lavender, black pepper and ancho chili. Wonderful purity and intensity. Best from 2014 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional and my fourth favorite, I mean chronologically in the tasting. About $94, and relatively speaking Good Value, meaning that it doesn’t cost $250.
10. Robert Mondavi Oakville District. Another beauty cloaked in monumental tannins; spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black and blue fruit scents and flavors; perfectly balanced in terms of all elements and a wine that for its size and power and resonance feels suave and elegant; no mistaking those austere tannins on the finish, though, or that sweet loamy earthiness. Now through 2018 to ’20. About $40, and the Bargain of this Bunch.
11. Chateau Monetelena The Montelena Estate. I have tasted several of these Montelena Estate cabernets from the late 1990s and early 2000s, and this rendition is easily the most daunting and demanding of them all. This is a huge, multi-dimensioned wine in every sense, and yet, because great wines always present themselves as a series of unfolding paradoxes, it offers lovely details of fruit and spice and dried flowers that one could almost call winsome, and, funny, when I first typed that word, I wrote “wisdom.” A fruitful slip of the fingers, since great wines also embody the wisdom of their vineyards and the soil from which the vines sprang forth. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $122.