Joseph Phelps Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Tasting Notes
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Joseph Phelps Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Tasting Notes

I don't know whether I am uncovering a trend, but the six-to-one ratio of Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot, as in this particular 86%/14% blend, or of Merlot to Cabernet, as in several others I've tasted recently, seems a popular one in California. The aging in half French oak, half American oak, half new, as in this flagship offering from Joseph Phelps Vineyards, also seems to have mathematical resonance. The rest of the math: a production of a respectable 30,000 cases, a price range of between $40 and $55. I want to take this data into further analogy, but it is folly, despite temptation, to ascribe some kind of cabalistic formula to the interaction of all these numbers. You have got to push it all aside when you pour the wine (if you can help yourself during a five hour decant). In the case of this particular Cabernet, the pleasure of the pour presages other pleasures to come.

Though the wine is young, it is precociously smooth, an exposition of cherry, blackberry and a nice range of fragrant spices: vanilla, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon, along with some toast from that oak. The wine is round and lush now, even though it is young; the tannins are soft and ripe as well, and yes, now. Acidity is not the pushy variety, but it doesn't need to be, faced with all that ripeness. The finish reveals a concentrated, yet not too sweet, cassis, with a touch of pungent black pepper.

The above results should not be astonishing had it not been for a three week California heat wave late in the 2004 season that resulted in both the perils and the possibilities of concentrated ripeness. We could have had a tannic, alcoholic fruit-bomb the experts would have cautioned us to cellar for half a generation. We have instead an elegant and yet powerful statement of fruit and land. The one-seventh Merlot in the wine obviously has something to do with this happy result, but the hand of a fine winemaker is undeniable.


Verdict: Stylish
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Bordeaux blends add synergy to wine. This is one of these “rules” it makes little sense to question.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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