Friday, January 1, 2016

Freemark Abbey Cabernets 1997 Vintage Horizontal Tasting Dinner

Freemark Abbey Cabernets 1997 Vintage Horizontal Tasting Highlights Festive Holiday Celebration Dinner

The 1997 vintage was the theme for festive New Year's Eve dinner hosted by friends and fellow 'pour boy' Bill and Beth C, with Freemark Abbey being the headliner. Bill dipped in to his vertical collection to pull 1997 vintage bottles of Freemark Abbey Bosché and Sycamore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignons. From our cellar I brought the Estate from the same vintage. And, to round out the horizontal tasting, I also brought a 1997 vintage Cornerstone Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. The results were an amazing tasting experience.

Beth prepared a wonderful delicious dinner of beef tenderloin, cream spinach and onions, wild rice pilaf and corn pudding.

At this point, I should ask forgiveness for my obsessiveness in this analysis of these tasting results. This is what makes wine tasting fun for geeks like me (us), and perhaps so mysterious or annoying for the 'un' or less interested pedestrian bystander. This leads to, and is fed by deep and long experience in tasting these wines over a period of, and of wines from, literally, decades of time and vintages.

We've visited the Freemark Abbey winery and met the winemaker and owners on numerous occasions. Tonight's tasting will add another chapter in our many memorable experiences and stories of tasting Freemark Abbey wines.

The results of our tasting were so consistent, I had to check my palate discrimination to see if perhaps I was impaired from medications I am taking from recent oral surgery.

Remarkably, all four Cabs exhibited a similar tasting flavor profile and signature, aligned serially in a gradation of weight and firmness along the same plane.

Also, interestingly, all four wines exhibited the same aging state or condition relative to the effects of their aging, being from the same vintage, and having had the same provenance. Indeed, upon opening, all four of the corks showed identical near perfection in their condition - still moist, firm, and clear of any diminution or seepage whatsoever - a testament to Bill's and our cellars and handling!

There is also a commentary here on the 1997 vintage and its ageability - all the wines showed 2015 as beyond or nearing the end of their drinking window. Yet, none of the wines were beyond their prime and were well within their drinking window, albeit none will likely improve with further aging at this stage of their life. The much heralded, arguably over-rated vintage is still drinking well at eighteen years, and may just now be revealing its true and native character.

The tasting profile for all four Cabs was remarkably consistent - firm, tight concentrated black currant fruit predominating accented with tones of black raspberry, tea and graphite highlights. Only the Estate Cabernet deviated with tones of bright cherry and red fruit competing with the black currant layer. None of the wines showed any diminution or adverse effects from their eighteen years in bottle aging.

All four Cabernets were concentrated, firm, tightly wound with bright focused fruits with gradations along the plane in terms of firmness, tightness and smoothness or polish. The order from low to high in relative weighting were: Estate, Sycamore, Bosché, then Cornerstone.

Perhaps what is even more remarkable is the fact that while three of the Cabs are from the same producer and label, two are from specific vineyards, the only common element being the vintage. It is possible that some of the same fruit from Bosche and Sycamore are blended into the Estate, but not likely much between the two. But, there is no explanation aside common vintage for the similarity between the Cornerstone and Freemark Abbey offerings.

All that said, paradoxical to the tasting observations was the lack of consistency in the color of the four wines, which was very diverse indeed, from ruby colored to dark garnet to inky black - yet with the same taste profiles as noted, across the range.

As always, I write these notes and set these conclusions based on memory, and our shared perceptions or interpretations expressed during the tasting session, but with no forethought, bias or influence from third party ratings or rankings. Only after I produce this commentary do I go back and review and compare other notes on the wines. Remarkably, my conclusions here are bolstered by and consistent with the community of contributors to Cellartracker and beyond.

The Cabernet flight:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Medium bodied, deep ruby colored, bright vibrant expressive cherry fruit highlighted by tones of black currant and black raspberry, hints of black tea, tobacco, graphite and notes of anise and oak on the lingering moderate tannin finish.
RM 89 points.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Medium to full bodied, dark garnet colored, tightly wound and firm yet nicely balanced, smooth and polished, concentrated black currant and black raspberry fruits highlighted by tones of black tea, tobacco, kirsch, graphite and notes of cola, anise and oak on the lingering moderate tannin finish.
RM 92 points.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Bosché Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Medium to full bodied, black ink colored, complex, tightly wound, firm and concentrated yet nicely balanced, expressive black berry, black raspberry and currant fruits highlighted by tones of black tea, tobacco, graphite and notes of cola, kirsch, anise and oak with hints of mocha on the lingering moderate tannin finish.
RM 92 points.

Cornerstone Cellars Cornerstone Vineyard Napa Valley Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

The biggest of the flight, medium to full bodied, dark garnet colored, complex, tightly wound, firm and concentrated yet nicely balanced, expressive black berry, black raspberry and currant fruits highlighted by tones of black tea, tobacco, graphite and notes of anise and oak on the lingering firm tannin finish.
RM 92 points.

There was some interesting confusion regarding this bottle. Based on my cellar records that showed this as Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet 1997, I had advised Bill that was what I would bring to dinner. My records also showed that I had already consumed Cornerstone Vineyard Oakville Cabernet 1997 as well as bottle (s) of Cornerstone Cellars Beatty Ranch Vineyard Cabernet 1997. Since the bottle was wrapped in original packaging tissue paper, I didn't see the actual label until its unveiling at dinner tonight when it turned out to be this Cornerstone Vineyard variant. I have some other Cornerstone 1997 Cabernet (s) in the cellar, also wrapped in tissue. I now wonder which variant they are. 

Leading up to dinner, Bill served two releases, variations of 2012 Sea Smoke Sea Spray Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blend Sparkling Wine - 'standard' label and a follow on LD - 'late disgorged' label. Starter courses included shrimp cocktail and a medley of three artisan cheeses with crackers and biscuits. 

What an interesting comparison in two release variations of this label, revealing much greater diversity than one might expect. Bill's notes on the two offerings. 

Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc De Noir L. D. (Late Disgorged) Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blend Sparkling Wine 2012 

"Drank this along side last years original 2012 Sea Spray and the difference was a huge surprise. The LD was drier, more polished and complex, building on the fruit and brightness of the original 2012. Definitely my preferred style."

WC 92 points. 

Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc De Noir Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blend Sparkling Wine 2012

"Consistent with earlier notes, this opens with light strawberry and cherry on thepalate with a bit of toast on the finish. What was interesting is that we drank side by side with the newly arrived Sea Spray 2012 Late Disgorged. Surprisingly there was a noticeable difference with the LD showing more polish and complexity. The LD was drier for a start and had an additional yeasty layer that I believe, created the polish. The LD was definitely my preferred style and I was quite surprised by the difference."
WC 89 points. 

Bill is more discerning and discriminating in reviewing these wines. While the difference was certainly discernible, my rating for the standard label would have been only a point, maybe two, less than the LD follow on.

Following dinner, Beth served chocolate cake and chocolate pecan pie. With the dessert course, Lyle brought and served Two Hands Lily's Garden Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2012, a great accompaniment to the course. We love this style of wine and with its full bodied, rich, concentrated thick tongue coating fruit, it can be a meal all in of itself! I would have loved to have tasted this opposite the cheese course and salad, to focus on the intense fruits. But the Sea Smoke was great there too. A wealth of riches tonight in our selection on offer.

 Two Hands Lily's Garden McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012

To say these wines are big is such an understatement, but hyperbole doesn't due justice to this big bruiser with its 16.5% alcohol. From the Two Hands super-premium, single vineyard collection, this classic McLaren Shiraz is named after producer co-owner Michael Welftree's daughter Lily born in August 2001. With our affinity for, and appreciation for such devotion and family orientation, I'll cast a different lens on this label in the future.

Big, full bodied, dark inky purple color, plush, rich, concentrated thick tongue coating, black and blue berry fruit compote and coulis accented by a layer of spice, gravelly mineral, tones of mocha and black pepper with oak on the chewy tannin laced lingering finish.

RM 93 points.