Monday, May 11, 2020

Ninety-Plus Cellars Lot 94 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Ninety-Plus Cellars Lot 94 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

I've written often in these pages the Ninety-Plus Cellars story with their negociant wines or surplus wines acquired and private labeled, often at high QPR below market prices. They offer a broad selection of labels from the wine regions around the world, often at great value. Occasionally, they offer extraordinary wines at affordable prices for everyday drinking.

When I acquired this label, I hoped this might be such a selection but tonight it was uninspiring and leaving much to be desired while shut-in due to the Coronavirus isolation. Holding some to retry the next day, it was more approachable and enjoyable the following day.

The Ninety-Plus approach started in 2009 when founder Kevin Mehra set out to bring higher quality wine to the market for a better price. He reached out to producers with a history of high ratings asking if they had wine for sale. While some told him to get lost, he found several that had excess inventory, or had some that did not meet their standards for their premium flagship label. Rather than diminish their brand, they agreed to put their wine behind the Ninety-Plus 'private' label, and sell it for less.

Those with excess inventory were willing to part with a certain percentage of their production for a reduced price, rather than discount their wine and erode the value of their brand. It was a win/win scenario. Wineries got to sell more wine, and consumers got access to better wine at lower prices.

Head wine buyer, Brett Vankoski continues to seek out the best opportunities in the market and turn those into great values. Each wine source is anonymized and identified or referred to as a "Lot" number, so as to provide continuity for a particular source from vintage to vintage.

Since availability of a Ninety-Plus label or Lot # is often due to excess supply or other reasons, one cannot expect, or depend on a particular Lot being available year after year. Such is the case of one particular favorite that we found and enjoyed. Despite buying up all we could find in the marketplace, we have not seen a return of the Lot 101 Syrah from Columbia Valley. At the time, the label specified simply '250 cases'. Interestingly it didn't say produced. How many cases were sold under some other, perhaps well known, perhaps higher priced label? We'll likely never know.

labelWine collectors understand the axiom of pricing wine for the occasion ... every day wines, once a week wines, once a month wines and once in a lifetime or special occasion wines. Only the privileged few need not worry about budgets or costs of their beverage choice du jour.

We've been enjoying a lot of great wines during our sequestration and sought a more moderate priced selection for this weeknight.

Lot 94 is part of the Ninety-Plus Cellars' popular Collector's Series wine brand. It is a full-bodied Napa Cab from highly-regarded vineyard sites in the distinguished Rutherford AVA, a good value when compared to the Napa Cabs produced from such sites.   

When I last tasted this last fall I rated this 90 Points and wrote, "The 2017 is a top flight Cabernet, sophisticated, complex and enjoyable for early gratification, drinking now, and may likely improve further with 2 to 5 years of aging or more as it is not equal to the 2015 which was a bit better integrated and polished."

Ninety-Plus writes of this label, "the fruit is picked from vines situated on the east side of the valley in a vineyard that was first planted in the 1890s. Upon alluvial and volcanic soils these densely planted vines produce Cabernet Sauvignon that makes some of the best wine in Napa. This is an all-star Cabernet with an elite pedigree."

While I echo the negociant's (Ninety Plus Cellars) tasting notes on this release: "Deep crimson in color with lavish aromas of black currant, mocha, and savory herbs with trailing notes of tobacco and vanilla. Full-bodied and well-rounded with soft edges and a lively dose of bright cherry fruit that unfolds into a smooth finish," this lacked balance and polish I hoped for pleasant high QPR everyday sipping. The fruits were a bit obtuse and forward with a somewhat flabby less approachable profile.

RM 88 points.