Saturday, September 26, 2015

Gala celebration dinner features Phelps Backus - Insignia Napa Cabernets

Gala celebration dinner features Phelps Backus and Insignia Napa Cabernets - a 'once (or twice) in a lifetime' tasting flight!

I've written often in these pages about various and customary investment strategies for building a wine cellar. Pick a varietal, a region/appellation profile that you like, determine key vintages that reflect the best of that wine, and pick key vintages you wish to commemorate for birth or anniversary years or other special occasions, all according to an acceptable budget. The result should be a selection of wines for all occasions - every day wines, once a week and once a month wines, and once a year or once in a lifetime special occasion wines.

Saturday was one of those special occasions warranting special wines... Attending Dr Dan's daughter Hillary's wedding, he gathered and served two very special wines for our reception dinner - Joseph Phelps Bachus and Phelps Insignia, from various vintages, showcase highlights from Dan's cellar collection.

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Oakville Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

You know its a special wine when each bottle label has its own serial number. This is the premier selection of the Joseph Phelps collection.

This 2005 release tasting was a bit closed and tight, at ten years old this has many years of life yet and may not even have reached its peak drinking window.

Dark inky garnet purple colored, smooth polished nicely balanced black berry and black raspberry fruits, tones of anise and cedar turning to a hints of dark mocha on the long lingering silky smooth tannin finish.

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with 24 months in new oak.

Tasted alongside several Insignias its hard to pick a favorite. More on that below as we parsed the various vintages of Insignia.

Joseph Phelps Insignia vertical selection/collection - 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

What a treat to parse these different vintages. While the venue didn't allow for a technical tasting, since the bottles were dispersed across the select tables, and brought out serially by the servers, the selection of the flight was extraordinary and a very special treat indeed. And being a gala celebration, it didn't allow for discrimination of one glass to the next, hence, I won't endeavor to try to handicap or comment on each vintage, rather some comments and remembrance notes.

While Backus may be the ultra-premium label, Insignia is the flagship of the Joseph Phelps brand. It is a Cabernet based blend of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with highlights of Bordeaux varietals and an occasional Malbec, that vary from vintage to vintage. Annual production is around a thousand cases plus.

Phelps Insignia 2008
rear label
Phelps Insignia 2010
rear label
As I review my photo's of the labels. which is a great way to capture the tasting flight order, I note that the while the rear labels of Insignia cites the blend for that vintage, it does not reference the vintage (shown left)! What a shame since its impossible to match the blend to the vintage unless one pairs the photo of the front label with the rear label.

I cant imagine why they do this and find it hard to believe it is done on purpose, as much as I find it hard to believe that it is an oversight, being the flagship of such a sophisticated label, with so many years history. Frankly, its unfortunate and bit irritating when trying to recreate a tasting experience and learn from and critically review the various vintage reflections.

We started with the 2006 and that set a benchmark for the evening. Moving to the 2008, Bill cited that as his preference, while I favored the 2004. The '06 was tight and a bit closed while the '08 came across as more approachable and open.

More approachable still was the '04 which was not as firm, bold or concentrated, but tended to have more sweet tones which I tend to favor. Linda liked the more approachable '04 as well. Then the '10 was presented and it seemed to eclipse all the others in a symphony of refined polished perfectly balanced flavors.

Tonight's experience was consistent with my earlier tasting notes for this (2004) release: Dark ruby and inky purple color, full bodied, this required about an hour to open and reveal its true character and fruits - complex but elegant and polished rich deep concentrated notes of blackberries, cassis, with hints of rich, crème caramel, sweet oak and cedar with smooth polished finely integrated tannins on the long finish.

My photo log indicates we tasted the '07 in the series and I admit I don't have recollection or reflection on that release. Imagine that! Since it doesn't stand out one way or the other, then the fact is it was fine refined quality drinking and fit the occasion. 

All the releases showcased classic Insignia characteristics - complex concentrated full bodied jammy black berry, black raspberry and plum fruits with full gripping but smooth polished tannins on long lingering silky finishes.

Thanks, Danny for sharing a splendid flight - the best of the best ... from your cellar with us pour boys wine aficionados! I'd be remiss to not post a picture of our host, the father of the bride!