Wines > Wine Library Notes

Christie Dufault

Christie Dufault, Bay Area sommelier and wine educator, decants the Estate Cabernet in the Spottswoode winery.

Vertical Tasting Held on November 13, 2013

November is one of our favorite months, not only because we love Thanksgiving, but because we get to gather together to taste through fifteen vintages of our Estate Cabernet Sauvignon! We always bring in outside palates to assist us in this endeavor, and as we taste these vintages blind there are inevitably great insights that come with the release of our preconceived notions. This year we were honored to welcome Scott Brenner and Kelli White from PRESS in St. Helena, Peg Melnik from the Associated Press, and Alder Yarrow of Vinography.

We blind-tasted fifteen vintages, 1997–2011, in two separate flights. Because wines are alive, breathing, and ever changing, our impressions and evaluations vary from year to year.

D Best in Show
On this particular day, the group had some favorites that are designated with the Black Labrador symbol. This “list” evolves annually.


Vintages 1997–2010

D 1997 Drink Warm, enticing, and savory. Pretty fruit aromas of candied apple, pomegranate, ripe plum, and brandied cherry integrate beautifully with earthy characters—forest leaves, leather, wet stones, mushroom, olive tapenade, and miso. The wonderful deep earthiness is lifted by excellent acidity. Mouthwatering amidst some drier fruit tones. Lingering dusty tannins, good weight and length. A well-developed vintage with lots of layers and complexity. Really lovely!

D 1998 Drink/Hold Fresh and vibrant, this wine is walking the perfect line between lush fruit and deeper earth characters. A big medley of aromas and flavors: brambly blackberry and concentrated cherry meld with pine, menthol, graphite, green olive, and wet earth. Expansive rich notes of chocolate, warm bread, and butternut squash. An appealing rustic quality to this wonderfully muscular vintage, with firm tannins wrapping around the fruit core. Great acidity and length. Rich and seamless with good weight. A stunner again this year.

D 1999 Hold Fresh blue and black fruits—full, youthful, beautiful, and inviting. Powerful on the palate, though still holding back with more to reveal. Very nuanced and layered. Savory, with hints of cranberry, warm fireplace ash, caramel, tobacco, cedar, graphite, spice, and crushed herbs. Seamless, with amazing structure and density. Gorgeous acidity and soft suede-like tannins. We appreciate the beauty of this vintage. More to come.

2000 Drink/Hold Earth-dominated aromas of crushed nuts and a hint of oak are layered on top of red fruit and barnyard characters. Lots going on—cooked bananas and caramel, savory root vegetables, smoked meat, sweet hay and tobacco, tar, wood spice, leather. Big and impressive, concentrated and seamless with a wonderful soft texture—mouth-coating and seductive with lingering dusty tannins. A yummy warmth. As always, distinctive and Bordeaux-like.

2001 Drink Wonderful, classic Cabernet smells—pretty and warm. A delightful medley of primary and secondary characters. Everything from plum to tobacco, black tea to olive tapenade, mint to soy, with some bay leaf, pine needles, pepper, leather, rose petal, cranberry, and cassis. Smooth tannins, soft structure, nice texture, weight and acid. Clean and fresh and somewhat delicate, yet with discernible power. Feminine, inviting, and expressive with a silky texture. Is aging beautifully.

2002 Drink/Hold A big, ripe wine with a dense, dark fruit core. Blackberry, blueberry, bitter chocolate, candle wax, molasses, Indian spice, bacon, white pepper, menthol, and mineral notes. Rich, with beautiful balance and length. Robust mouth-coating tannins. The palate is expansive and broad, further highlighting the wine’s rich fruit characters. Not perfectly integrated at this showing, but very appealing with a long life ahead of it.

2003 Drink/Hold (Mary’s favorite) Quintessential Napa Cabernet. High-toned and lively, yet savory. Intense, dark, and ripe with deep blackberry and blueberry, red apple, marzipan, and caramel. Hints of salt, dried flowers, eucalyptus, anise, and tobacco. Well-integrated oak highlights the fruit beautifully. Slightly tight in the mouth with a faint muscular tannic presence. Primary fruit makes its way across the palate initially, giving way to earthy cherry, cedar, and herbal notes on the finish. In a nice place with a great future ahead.

D 2004 Drink/Hold Warm, forward, ripe, with lots of fruit and baking spices. Pretty oak characters—vanilla, nutmeg, gingerbread, coconut—and rich notes of ripe raspberry and cherry, dark chocolate, raisin bread pudding, sweet hay, marshmallow, and brown sugar. Gorgeously bright acidity brings an almost citrus minty quality to lush black cherry, cola, and tobacco flavors. Gulpable, with a creamy, silky texture and a long finish. Still in a wonderful, showy window.

2005 Hold Somewhat subtle and earthy. Displaying lots of secondary characters—mushroom, olive, herbs, bacon, leafy cedar, smoke, leather—melded with cranberry, rhubarb, and cherry notes as well. Hints of molasses, fig compote, and caramel. The cherry and rhubarb flavors are quite lifted in the mouth and there is levity to the wine, thanks to wonderful acidity. Thick tannins contribute to a long finish. Should be quite long-lived.

2006 Hold (Alder’s favorite) Layered, textural, and inviting, yet retains its sense of mystery—subtle and pretty. Plum, cocoa powder, butterscotch, lead pencil, rum cake, spice, nutmeg, cream, rosemary, berry dust. In the mouth, gorgeously lush cherry and plum fruit wrap around fleecy, powdery tannins. Beautiful, smooth, and bright with excellent acidity and a youthful, lifted quality on the palate. Juicy and lovely. Will be happy in your cellar for a while.

2007 Hold Big, textured, deep, dark, and broad with lots of cherry, cedar, and tobacco. Savory and spicy with hints of chocolate, coconut, brambles, and a core of fruit syrup. Wisps of cola, salt, minerals, and charcoal. Concentrated, with firm yet beautifully plush tannins and pretty oak characters. Nice acidity keeps things bright, with enticing earth notes lingering underneath. A touch quieter than last year, but ripe, yummy, and delicious.

D 2008 Hold A big bowl of lush fruit backed by cedar and a hint of black olive—concentrated and pretty. Scott called this wine a Bruiser (affectionately, of course), with a firm iron core wrapping around the fruit—very dense. Attractive, deep, dark, and juicy with lots of substance and backbone. Razzleberry, dark berries, charcoal, dried flowers, hints of honey and caramel corn, peat, menthol, and cinnamon. A broad richness, a bit of heat, good acidity, and firm angular tannins. A big-boned vintage—enticing, plush, and ripe. Wonderful, but calls for time.

2009 Hold High-toned, yet weighty and powerful. Pretty, round, and fresh with lots of blackberry pie spice, cassis, and some wet earth. Deep, dark, and a bit brooding. Juicy, soft, and beautifully textured with hints of mineral and crushed rocks. Blueberry, pomegranate, nectar, sage, cola, herbs, toffee, mineral, and a suggestion of melon rind. Fresh acidity and beautiful, supple, silky tannins. A marvelous potpourri of ingredients—further development to come.

D 2010 Try/Hold (Peah’s favorite) Very young and fresh, with nascent high-toned blue and black fruit and intense blackberry spice. Chocolate, cream, marshmallow, butterscotch, cedar, and leather. Deep, round, full, long—classic Spottswoode. Wonderful in the mouth—appealing warmth, great balance and power, smooth and lively simultaneously. Fine-grained supple tannins wrap firmly around the fruit and carry all the way through the palate. Velvety and rich. Powerful. A beauty.

Vintages 1982-1996
Christie Dufault

Christie Dufault, Bay Area sommelier and wine educator, decants the Estate Cabernet in the Spottswoode winery.