Les Oenarchs Blast From the Past

A sensational meal at Baltimore's finest restaurant was matched with some classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, primarily from the seventies. We began our evening with two great magnums of Champagne, both in full bloom, the 1990 Dom Pérignon and 1990 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. The red wines were preceded by a gorgeous flight of Chardonnays, with everything showing exceptionally well with the exception of the Mt. Eden, which was a bit earthy and not up to previous bottles. My favorite wine of the flight was the 2000 Kongsgaard, followed closely by the more mineral-dominated 1996 Marcassin Chardonnay Marcassin Vineyard, still a very young wine. Both the 1998s showed how excellent that vintage is for Chardonnay, but they undoubtedly have shorter lifelines than such vintages as 1999 and 2001.

Flight two included several producers whose glory days were in the seventies and early eighties. A flawed bottle of 1978 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Red Rock Terrace revealed too much volatile acidity and was not nearly as good as previous bottles. The dense, chewy 1978 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill is California's version of a hypothetical blend of La Mission-Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild. The 1976 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon was rustic, earthy, and awkward. While still outstanding, the rich, concentrated 1976 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection is not as glorious as it was 5-6 years ago. As I have written before, older vintages of Mayacamas are pure joy. The 1975 has shown better on previous occasions, but it is still a vibrant, young, dense purple-colored wine with loads of crème de cassis fruit, minerals, and flowers. The monumental 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignonwas the red wine of the night. A spectacular effort with an unctuous texture, great purity of blackberry and cassis fruit, tremendous vibrancy and delineation, and amazing youthfulness, it has the potential for another 20 years of life. It is an astonishing wine!

Flight three included a selection of Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. The Joseph Phelps 1978 was superb, revealing notes of violets, minerals, blueberries, and cassis. While fully mature, it remains young, concentrated, and promising. Sadly, the 1976 Insignia (primarily from the Eisele Vineyard) was corked. The 1975 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the best regular cuvées Phelps ever made. It is still delicious, but it needs to be drunk. As for the 1975 Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard, it possessed a tremendous amount of sediment, but it revealed great minerality along with sweet black currant fruit intermixed with blueberry and floral notes. One of my two or three favorite wines of the night, it still has another 5-10 years of life ahead of it. A surprise was the 1974 Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard, the wine that made this estate famous even though they had nothing to do with making it. The wine was purchased out of tank at a bankruptcy sale from a producer whose name I can't recall. In any event, Conn Creek bottled it and the wine became famous. It remains a great bottle of blockbuster California Cabernet with loads of crème de cassis fruit intermixed with cedar, tobacco leaf, and spice box as well as gorgeous freshness and depth. The more Bordeaux-like, elegant, and restrained 1971 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyardseems to have lost some of its vigor over the last few years, but it remains an excellent offering for current consumption.

The last flight included the famed Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The 1984was monolithic, earthy, and unexciting. I have had better bottles. The 1976 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Oaks Vineyard was corked. That was followed by a spectacular bottle of 1974 Martha's Vineyard, one of the all-time greats from California. At its peak of perfection, it is capable of lasting another 10-15 years. The 1973 Martha's Vineyard seemed subdued in comparison. Again, I have had better bottles, but at this tasting it may have lost something by being sandwiched between the fabulous 1974 and a powerful 1968, which remains a gorgeous albeit fully mature Cabernet. The 1968 is reflective of just how well these wines can age.

All of the red wines were decanted six hours prior to service.

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