Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Very Old Cabs

My Cabernet group (CLONYC-Cabernet Lovers of NYC) had dinner last night at Zoe in SoHo. The theme of 1970s Cabs came together when Greg Dal Piaz and Steve Eisenhauer hatched the idea of opening some pristine mags of 1970s Cabernet that Greg had secured. They enlisted planner extraordinaire, Mike Pobega, to secure arrange the particulars.  When you are opening wines this old, there are always going to be hits and misses, but the highs were extremely high here, with the two Mayacamas showing magnificently, and the misses were nothing if not educational.

First up were a vertical of Martinis that Greg donated to the group. Greg brought these museum pieces that he had acquired off the sweat of his brow and the change in his pocket. With crumbly corks and just decent fills, it appeared we were in store for a real crap shoot. That's pretty much what we got to with a pretty decent range of quality. The general consensus was in favor of the '76, although both Greg and Greg T. preferred the '75. I didn't get that at all, but different strokes, especially when it comes to older wines.
  • 1974 Louis M. Martini Special Selection - Sadly, this tasted a bit past its prime. It started out a bit reductive and rubbery, but that cleared leaving an interesting savory nose of cassis and dried leaves. It seemed slightly madierized on the palate, with the one distinctive characteristic being a persistently long finish of amaretto. Blind, I would have said this was an extremely old Nebbiolo, as it didn't have much Cabernet character left. The ripe rabbit that has been passed by the tortoises of the less famous vintages.
  • 1975 Louis M. Martini Special Selection - I know Greg liked this one, but I found it rather disappointing. I never got passed the grassiness and rubber ball smell and the palate was a touch sour with really tired fruit. If there was more fruit, perhaps the dill wouldn't have bothered me as much as it did. Ultimately, whatever balance this wine once had has been lost to the ether.
  • 1976 Louis M. Martini Special Selection - Here is a wine I can get behind, although it was more pleasant than earth-shattering (which is fine). The funky, reductiveness that it had at first receded and gave way to dusty blackcurrants and earthy mushrooms. It had a gentle body and decent palate presence, although it lacked a certain amount of intensity that would elevate it to oustanding. As it is, it was very good, but I'd certainly drink these up if you have any.

Next up was 4.5 liters of outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon in the form of the magnums that were the original subject of this dinner.  These wines were all in absolutely pristine condition, having been culled from a cellar by Greg when he worked at Astor.  The wines never saw shelf time in a store and were kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. The performance of these wines really speak to the storage element to the tasting of wine, with the Martinis as a counterpoint. The corks were fantastic, the fills unbelievable and the wines were...
  • 1973 Mayacamas Vineyards - What a wine, what a wine. Dark and lovely, it was magic from the second it was in the glass. The nose was a gentle dusty cassis intermingled with dill (I'd expect this saw a fair bit of American oak in its day). It continued to evolve in the glass and gained complexity with cigar ash and earth. It had a certain tranquility in the mouth, not that it lacked vivacity, but in a way that showed great self-assurance and restraint. It was an effortless wine in the mouth, with smoky dark fruit that was reminiscent of mature Graves, but with a sweetness to the fruit that was quite California. Here was a wine truly in balance with each element clean and precise. A truly classic Claret and a revelation.
  • 1975 Mayacamas Vineyards - This wine started slowly and built to an amazing crescendo. Unmistakably California Cabernet, it displayed brawny and brambly mountain fruit with a youthful vibrancy that belied its age. It evolved beautifully in the glass, picking up charcoal, mint and earth, without fading one iota. The dark profile of the fruit carries through to the palate where it showed great breadth and power. There is still a fair amount of tannin to resolve, but it surrounds and elevates the sweet California fruit rather than obscuring it. Impeccable balance and precision carry through to a long and tasty finish. A remarkable wine that should continue to evolve.
  • 1977 Heitz Cellars Bella Oaks - I thought this was going to continue the streak of great mature CA Cabs, but after a brief promise it faded. The nose initially showed dark plum mixed with cocoa powder and leather, but dipped a bit picking up some soy notes and generally becoming more reticent on the fruit side. It didn't have much intensity or weight in the mouth, although it was not at all unpleasant. It just seemed to struggle a bit to keep up with the 2 wines next to it. Still, it was clearly well crafted, even if a bit tired.

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