Joseph Phelps Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
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.
Bordeaux blends add synergy to wine. This is one of these “rules” it makes little sense to question.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman