Stars of Cabernet Was Exactly That

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of attending the highly-anticipated STARS of Cabernet hosted by Ian Blackburn of wineLA.  Ian is Los Angeles’ own wine guru and industry insider.

The list of wineries pouring established that.  True stars who have achieved an elite status as some of the finest Cab producers around.

Here’s just a partial list of the participating wineries: The Hess Collection, La Sirena, Arrowood, Duckhorn (who just was honored with the Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator), Dunn, Ehlers Estate (who was pouring a 1986 St. Helena Cabernet), Frog’s Leap, Frank Family, ZD Wines, and dozens more.

This highlights the returns you receive by attending high-quality wine tastings.  In an event such as STARS of Cabernet, where the focus is on one varietal, you can begin to appreciate the distinctions of what one winery produces as opposed to another.

And, because there were folks from South America, France, and various regions in California, you can also see the gamut of a varietal’s profile from one region, from one country, from one continent, and even from one hemisphere and compare them to each other.

Also, something unique about STARS of Cabernet, some of the producers poured wine that was as aged as 30 years.  This can illuminate how fine wine can gracefully grow older.  I lack the tasting chops to sip a powerful, tannic two-year-old blend and tell you how it will develop in three or twenty-three years.  Many of these Cabs are so potent when young that they are virtually unapproachable.  But sampling one that’s been sitting around for a while can demonstrate the potential of what a young wine might become.

For instance, DUCLOT, one of the major wine traders of Bordeaux since 1886, represented by Benjamin Rousseau at the tasting, offered four wines: 2012 Talbot, 2012 Marquis de Chalon, 2009 Calon Segur, and 2003 Haut Bailly. 

In my next column I’ll discuss the characteristics of each.  But my point for now is that, after tasting these four wines, I would not serve either of the 2012s now.  Not because they’re awful.  But because they are much too juvenile.  They need to reach maturity, to develop, to lose that overwhelming tannin.

How do I know that will happen?  Because the 2009 and 2003 beautifully demonstrate that.  Many wine critics heralded 2009 as being the vintage of the century (at least until the 2010 came out).   But the wines from that vintage are quite masculine.  Here’s what Robert Parker said about the Calon Segur, “It could behave like the 1982, which, at age 30, is just becoming mature. The 2009 is an uncompromising, masculine, massive style of wine that needs 15-20 years of cellaring even in this luscious, flashy, flamboyant vintage. It is super-tight and needs lots of coaxing and aeration. Anticipated maturity: 2025-2050+.”  But even with a wine as dense as this, I could see, smell, and taste how it is evolving when compared to the 2012 wines.  While still an uncaged wild animal that needs about five hours of decanting, you could enjoy this now.

But why not let it sit in your cellar and open the 2003 Haut Bailly instead?  A luscious taste treat, it has shed much of its tannic armor and is a delight.  It shows why Bordeaux has the reputation it does.

STARS of Cabernet proved to be both an enjoyable and an educational joy.

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