HIGH-END CALIFORNIA CABERNETS

Our tasting panel puts more than 170 high-flying 1997 California Cabernets to the test, and finds that the wines live up to their advance billings.


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Our tasting panel examines the 1997 crop of California Cabernets and finds a choir full of excellent wines in the over-$30 category.

In an era when low yields are regularly billed as a prerequisite to producing top wines, California's biggest vintage ever has produced scores of superb Cabernets.

"It was one of those even, good-weather vintages, the kind we haven't had lately," laughs Lyndsey Harrison, owner/winemaker of Harrison Winery and Vineyards, recalling 1997. "We got great quality and great quantity, which you hardly ever see." Nancy Andrus of Pine Ridge Winery calls it "an absolutely fabulous vintage."

Iron Horse winemaker and partner Forrest Tancer agrees. "It was the earliest bud break in the last 20 years. We got good fruit set and ended up with a good crop of very good quality. It was really a seamless vine-to-wine experience." All of these producers crafted wines we rated 94 points or higher.

Of course, these blissful recollections and wonderful successes don't mean that all parts of California made great Cabernet. Our recent tastings of 171 California Cabernet Sauvignons and blends retailing for $30 or more show that there is a reason for Napa's preeminence. Of the 85 wines in the tasting we rated 91 or higher, 70 (just over 80 percent) were from Napa and its subappellations.

"I don't understand why other places aren't having the same sort of success with Cab," says Dirk Hampson, director of winemaking for Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel, which placed a bevy of wines in the 90-plus point range. "Certainly you can find similar climates and similar soils in other parts of California, but Napa has a special sort of synergy between soil, temperature and the attention Cabernet has received."

Andrus attributes much of the valley's success to its proximity to San Pablo Bay. "In Stag's Leap, we almost always have cool morning fogs, which don't really burn off until 11 a.m. or so; our Howell Mountain vineyard at 2,000 feet is above the fog, but gets cool afternoon breezes."

Although the temperature swings are similar, the wines from these two Napa subappellations are quite different. Pine Ridge's Howell Mountain wine is undeniably bigger than the Stag's Leap offering, with a tough, ruggedly tannic structure in contrast to the firm yet silky, nearly voluptuous tannins found in the Stag's Leap bottling, yet, says Andrus, "the difference is not in the winemaking."

At the risk of overgeneralizing, this distinction holds true elsewhere in Napa. Wines made from above-the-fog fruit tend to be bigger-boned and usually a little tougher in their youth in contrast to the velvety wines coming from lower elevations. This is more of a stylistic consideration than one of quality; we found top-rated wines from vineyards on Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder, as well as from Rutherford and Oakville midvalley. The very best wines, regardless of origin, achieve a certain structural balance.

In some cases, the balance comes in part from blending mountain fruit with valley fruit, a perfect example being the 95-point 1997 Cardinale. Winemaker Charles Thomas crafts "the core of the wine" from vineyards on Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain, then blends in wines from Alexander Valley for "floral aromatics" and from Oakville and Rutherford, which contribute a "silky texture" and "a mineral-dust, almost floral, character," respectively.

By contrast, Joseph Phelps's equally impressive 1997 Insignia is a blend primarily from two lower-lying vineyards—Las Rocas in the Stag's Leap District and Manley Lane in Rutherford. Winemaker Craig Williams credits the wine's quality this vintage in part to the exceptional length of the ripening season. "We were running two to three weeks ahead until we hit a cool fog pattern in August that slowed things down and gave us a really long hang time." Williams considers '97 to be the best vintage of a decade blessed by good vintages; on top of that, it was the largest release of Insignia ever, at 20,000 cases.

"We want to compete with the first growths of Bordeaux," says Tom Shelton, president of Phelps. With this release, the Phelps team feels it has accomplished that. But Williams takes it a step further: "I think in some ways we've established a separate and unique quality benchmark."

With that ringing in our ears, we turn our attention to Sonoma. Often cast unfairly as Napa's little sibling, in the case of Cabernet the allusion is apt. Although many Sonoma wines fared well, particularly those from Alexander Valley, the fact remains that large areas of Sonoma are too cool for Cabernet.

John Staten of Field Stone Winery, whose Staten Family Reserve Cabernet received a rating of 93 points from the panel, attributes the success of Alexander Valley Cabs to two factors: "I think in our case it's primarily the soils. We're on shallow clay-pan soils, very different from Napa. Also we get a southwesterly breeze almost every afternoon that keeps [nighttime] temperatures cooler. If Calistoga is at 57°F, we might be at 50°."

"I think it's important to be away from the Russian River, on the benches and hillsides," adds Tancer. "Close to the river you don't get the same breeze blowing in from Sebastopol." Tancer and Staten agree that the combination of soil and climate give Alexander Valley Cabs some unique attributes.

"The tannins are different," says Tancer. "They're what I call fruit tannins. They're softer, more fruit-driven wines." Adds Staten, "They have 'bright' fruit. Red and Bing cherries; stone fruits. They lack the dark, leathery or herbal character you sometimes find elsewhere."

To help accentuate that fruit, Tancer has adapted a technique he first used to make Pinot Noir, utilizing a cold pre-fermentation soak. In another trick borrowed from Pinot production, he is stirring the lees in the barrel to build richness and depth on the midpalate. "I started doing this with Pinots; now I'm using it on all our reds," says Tancer.

The strong showing of Alexander Valley wines notwithstanding, other parts of Sonoma can make Cabs with just as much appeal and distinctiveness. Michael Martini's family has been farming their Monte Rosso vineyard for decades, where despite the Sonoma Valley AVA, the vineyard is decidedly not a low-lying area. The elevation, which ranges from 800 to 1,200 feet above sea level, and southern exposure mean cooling breezes that make their way up from San Pablo Bay prevent the daytime temperatures from getting too high, resulting in grapes with sometimes piercing acid levels.

In a warm, ripe vintage like 1997, the acids in Martini's flagship Cabernet, which scored 93 points, have been moderated somewhat, resulting in a wine that's more expressive of its potential at an earlier age. Along with the microclimate, the red, decomposed volcanic soils, remnants of a lava flow off Napa's Mount Veeder, give a unique flavor to the Cabernets here, which Martini refers to as "a real pepper tone, somewhere between green bell pepper and black pepper, sometimes even jalapeño."

Napa Valley was the source of our top-rated 1997 Cabernets and blends.



Vintners in other parts of California make Cabernet; they just didn't fare quite as well in our tastings. Still, there were a couple of standouts from the Santa Cruz Mountains, one of California's coolest growing regions. Dexter Ahlgren, of the eponymously named winery, recalls the vintage as "fantastic," but attributes much of his success to the source of his fruit: Bates Ranch.

"The vineyard is just about 30 years old, and I've been working with that fruit since 1976. It's a gentle south-facing slope with really unique soils," says Ahlgren. It's certainly a great site for Cabernet Sauvignon; past vintages from several producers have been excellent, and another Bates Ranch Cabernet, from Thunder Mountain, also scored well. "The wines are really fruity, but long-lived," says Ahlgren.

Further south, Monterey is growing by leaps and bounds as a source of Chardonnay and, gradually, Pinot Noir. But Cabernet? That reaction is exactly what Lockwood winemaker Steve Pessagno has set out to change. Lockwood's Cabernet grows in the southern portion of Monterey, in a region known for its huge daily temperature swings.

"We can get 60-degree differences in a single day," says Pessagno. "We don't have the herbal [flavor] problems because of the hot days and better canopy management." One thing he has done in the vineyards is carefully control vine vigor. "For our VSR program, we do minimal irrigation prior to veraison, which helps keep berry size down, giving us more concentrated flavors."

Winemakers in Santa Barbara face some of the same challenges: Santa Barbara is known for its reds from Pinot Noir and Syrah; conventional wisdom is that it's too cool to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. But a few brave producers are bucking the trend. BlackJack Ranch's 1997 Harmonie Bordeaux-style blend will be a revelation to tasters who immediately discount Santa Barbara Cabernets.

"It was a picture-perfect vintage," recalls winemaker Roger Wisted. "We're usually about ten degrees cooler than the North Coast regions, but we do some things in the vineyard to compensate—leaf pulling, crop thinning." The Cabernet yields for Harmonie were a relatively generous 2.75 tons per acre in 1997; conversely, crops in '98 and '99 were substantially lower, as Wisted had to drop even more fruit to encourage full ripening.

All over California in 1997, it is a recurring theme. Because of the warm sunny weather, winemakers allowed the vines to carry more fruit than in cooler vintages like '98 and '99. As a result, quantities for many wines are up in 1997. In most markets, greater supply would mean falling prices, but not in California. It's a reflection of good economic times and the quality of the wines.

"California winemakers are making Cabernets that are every bit as good as the Bordelais, and should be paid accordingly," asserts an unapologetic Harrison. "Where that's going, I don't know; it's the economy, I guess." Lockwood's Pessagno says consumers should be selective. "Some really are that good," he says, referring to wines that sell for $75 to $100 or more per bottle. "Others are just capitalizing on the wave."

Andrus agrees that the economy seems to be the big thing driving prices these days. "We kept our prices in check for a long time and now with this economy we're being paid back for it." Shelton sees "tremendous demand. Scarcity and shortage are playing a role."

"Sure, there's a bit of keeping up with the Joneses," says Hampson, not referring to the high-flying Jones Family 1997 Napa Valley Cabernet (95 points). "If you don't maintain your standing, you're left behind. Still, as long as we deliver on the promise of a special-occasion wine, I think our prices are reasonable."

Hampson is right. At an average price of more than $50 per bottle, these are not "daily drinkers" for most of us; rather, they are bottles that will be consumed at restaurants or on special occasions, or cellared by collectors until they reach their full potential.

Are the wines worth it? Only you can decide if a particular wine is worth your hard-earned cash, and how much of it. We found top-rated wines from $30 up to $130, and lots of them, so consumers have plenty of great choices from the 1997 vintage. Use our reviews to guide you to the wines that have the best chance of meeting your expectations.

MAKING GREAT CABERNET

There's no set recipe for making great Cabernet, says Bartholomew Park's Antoine Favero: "You have to listen to the fermentation." He uses cultured yeasts and puts the wines into oak for only about a year. "We're trying to accentuate the differences between the single vineyards that we bottle," says Favero.

By contrast, Lyndsey Harrison of Harrison Winery uses only indigenous yeasts and puts her reserve wine into barrels for two years. Dirk Hampson of Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel chooses to use cultured yeasts, claiming that indigenous yeast populations can vary too much from year to year to be reliable. Still, he's a proponent of "doing as little as possible but as much as necessary."

Forrest Tancer at Iron Horse in Sonoma County is making Cabernet using some techniques he picked up while making Pinot Noir: cold pre-fermentation soaks and lees-stirring. And Steve Pessagno of Lockwood in Monterey also likes a cold soak; he also completes the fermentation under cooler than normal temperatures, "for ester preservation and brighter fruit character."

Winemakers may differ on how they handle the grapes in the winery, but one thing on which they agree is that the bulk of the work is done in the vineyard. "Our reserve wine comes from a block that's right next to Bryant Family's vineyard. The soils are very rocky, very shallow, and the vines there always struggle and look straggly," says Harrison.

Yields from that portion of the property are less than one ton per acre. That's exceptionally low, as most of the winemakers we interviewed for this article had yields in 1997 of between two and three tons per acre, or just a little more. Winemakers and their vineyard managers are using an ever-increasing array of means to limit vine vigor: selective irrigation, dense plantings, crop-thinning and leaf-shearing. Whatever the method or methods used, the goal is to produce grapes of great intensity and concentration.

 

TOP 1997 CABERNET SAUVIGNONS & BLENDS

96 Lewis 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $60
Complex aromas of cassis, espresso, bacon, and cola create instant interest. It seduces with its rich dark fruit and earth flavors, and a concentrated, suave mouthfeel. Big flavors and tannins don't quit on the long, even finish. Profoundly enjoyable, seamless and shows impeccable balance. Keep for five to seven years; it will last a long time.

95 Cardinale 1997 Red Table Wine (Napa Valley) $125
The lovely bouquet of blackberry jam, oak with mint, cedar, and black olives draws you in. Broad and rich on the palate, with ample but fine tannins. Great depth of dark-berry fruit, with coffee and cedar shadings. The explosive finish just keeps going, as intriguing sweet-tart fruit and bitter chocolate notes please all the way out.

95 Jones Family 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $75
Enormous aromatics of vanilla and chocolate, dark berries and spice cake. An open palate with sweet-tart fruit and vanilla notes. The rich, round feel, the depth of fruit, and the velvety tannins nearly veil the solid structure. Finishes dry and long, with coffee and chocolate flavors. A newcomer with budding cult credentials. Hold three to five years if you can keep your hands off it.

95 Joseph Phelps 1997 Insignia (Napa Valley) $120
Opens with aromas of black cherry, pencil lead, fruitcake and cookie dough; now it's all one big melange wrapped a bit tight. The balance and immense depth of fruit shine, even in this unevolved state. Standard dark-plum and chocolate notes are rendered with uncommon subtlety here. The finish goes on and on. Needs four to six years.

95 Pine Ridge 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Stag's Leap District) $50
Very solid and deep, with a bouquet of delicious black-currant and dark-cherry fruit and toasty, buttery oak. Very comfortable mouthfeel. Full, with layered fruit and a long and elegant finish that sports big but not sharp tannins. Tight now; hold for three to six years.

94 Beaulieu Vineyard 1997 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $100
A profoundly deep nose of red and black fruit, with cedar, ginger and nutmeg. The sense of balance and grace is sublime, as layers of cassis, plum and cinnamon keep unfolding. The chewy finish is lengthy and elegant, and it should be held for no less than five years. This bottling honors its pedigree as California's first classic Cabernet.

94 Clos Du Val 1997 Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $48
Impeccable fruit shines like a beacon. Opens with rich black-cherry and chocolate aromas, with beautifully poised earth and tobacco notes. In the mouth, the fruit speaks in sweet black-cherry and currant tones, and again, the tobacco accents pop up. Big, but refined; the mouthfeel is compelling; the full, even tannins portend a fine, long future.

94 Cosentino 1997 The Poet (Napa Valley) $65
Forward aromas of ripe cherries and deep vanillin oak meld nicely. Black plum, sweet cherry and coffee flavors, with cedar accents. The very full, supple mouthfeel is captivating. Shows fine length, spicy dry tannins and the stuffing to last. Hold four or more years, as it will keep for ages.

94 Harrison 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)$100
Simply a spectacular wine; a Napa prototype for fabulous Cabernet. Cassis, tobacco and cedar commingle on the nose, followed by luscious cassis fruit that's backed up by exemplary barrel notes—both in flavor and in texture. So smooth and deft, it's the epitome of class. Give it about five years.

94 Iron Horse T-Bar-T Benchmark (Alexander Valley) $50
Full and plush, with complex aromas of cassis, cinnamon, earth, cedar, coffee and cream. Low in acidity, it is large in depth of fruit and flavor, with black currants, earth and coffee reigning on the palate and into the finish. A sensuous texture and long finish with soft tannins complete the pleasure package. Very approachable; drink now through 2008.

94 Iron Horse T-Bar-T Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $35
Great depth and purity of fruit. It shines with lovely violet and lavender accents. Very dark cassis, black plum, coffee and toasty oak flavors, with handsome herb and spice accents. The mouthfeel is excellent—big, but almost perfectly balanced between a lush richness and solid tannic structure. A keeper needing four to six years.

94 Pine Ridge 1997 Andrus Reserve (Napa Valley) $125
Starts off with a classy bouquet of blackberry liqueur, coffee and nicely integrated oak. The fruit is very dense—almost overripe—but still delicious, with prune, dark chocolate and cocoa. Feels plush and suave on the tongue, and the juicy plum-cocoa finish goes on and on. Interesting, almost atypical in some ways, but harmonious and complete.

94 St. Clement 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $35
Very smooth and harmonious, from its cherry, cocoa and smoke-tinged aromatics through the similarly endowed palate, where licorice and cedar notes add further complexity. Balanced, not weighty; it closes with very even tannins and a full, even black-cherry finish with toasty notes. Approachable now; will improve over the next three years.

94 Schug 1997 Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $40
A gorgeous nose of blackberry, cedar, and cinnamon opens seamlessly into the robust yet elegant palate. Rich cassis, licorice, and cinnamon-toast flavors abound and the mouthfeel is suave. The tangy finish shows dusty tannins, big chocolate and black-cherry flavors. Well structured, it needs three to five years; will age well.

94 Sequoia Grove 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $42
Toasty oak is wrapped around some complex elements: blackberry, violets, tar, cedar, coffee and game. Big, very dark fruit, tobacco and toast flavors soar, and the mouthfeel is intense yet not weighty. Fine structure on the finish, with black-currant fruit and tar, coffee and cocoa accents. Great potential; hold two to five years at least.

94 Sherwin Family 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain) $65
Opens with blockbuster notes of blueberry, cassis, licorice, smoke and earth, all the while displaying great depth. Finely integrated cherry, herb, espresso, oak and soy flavors have that intense vitality that command attention. Full and well proportioned on the palate, the wine finishes long, with beautiful fruit and big but very even tannins.

94 Stags' Leap Winery 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $35
Structured and built for the long haul, the densely packed aromatics hint at the power within. Blackberry, earth, fruitcake and cinnamon are all there, and the palate delivers a similar mix with added coffee, cocoa and licorice elements. Great texture and weight, and a lengthy finish with dry, even tannins. Best if cellared four to six years.

94 Truchard 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Carneros) $35
For the money, Cabernet doesn't get any better than this. And it comes from Carneros of all places. Dark, minty and chocolaty, with a richness that carries into and through the blackberry palate. It's got plenty of girth and size, but also perfect balance and grace. Great fruit, great winemaking, great wine.

93 S. Anderson 1997 Richard Chambers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Stag's Leap District) $75
Deep earth, tobacco and dark plums on the nose, and a lovely cool note. Dark fruit on the palate keeps the cool profile going. The flavorful finish rolls on and on, not missing a beat, with beautiful black fruit and espresso notes. An appealing black beauty, best after three years and out.

93 Bartholomew Park 1997 Batto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $36
The roaring nose shows enormous concentration and depth, with licorice, plum and oak shadings. The mouthfeel is big and jammy, but the fruit is well defined, with a sweet-tart quality and dark coffee accents. Almost seems overmature, but truly flavorful and inviting already.

93 Beaulieu Vineyard 1997 Clone 4 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $130
Full-priced, full-bodied, and the full complement of just about all you want in a Rutherford Cab. Port-like aromas lead a pure and layered palate that features cassis, cherry, tobacco and cocoa. What an array of flavors—and then it finishes with dusty tannins and a tight grip. Talk about fitting the pieces into the puzzle.

93 Cakebread 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $37
Lush and forward, with complex sour-plum, espresso, cola, vanilla and fudge aromas. Round berry flavors, licorice, Asian spice and pepper accents mark the palate. Full, but not heavy, with a long, smooth plum and cocoa finish. This is a stylish and elegant black knight.

93 Carmenet 1997 Moon Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $48
Score one for Sonoma Valley and this winery, as the '97 exceeds previous efforts. Lots of enticing deep-berry aromas touched up with leather, dill, and an array of other spices and herbs, even oregano. It's one of those rock-solid winners where the whole is more profound than the parts.

93 Corison 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $50
Lovely mixed berries—black, red and blue—cedar shadings, and vanilla mark the nose of this elegant, finely crafted wine. Similar flavors prevail on the palate, with sophisiticated licorice and pencil-lead accents. Balanced and graceful, it finishes dry, even offering dried fruit and mineral notes. Complex and excellent already, but hold until 2004 and drink over the next 15 years.

93 Dominus 1997 Red Table Wine (Napa Valley) $100
Deep berry, cinnamon, briar and mint aromas. Firm, even backward, yet solid. Black fruit and bitter-chocolate flavors abound. The finish is especially tight, with dry tannins and complex mineral and earth elements. Huge yet refined, it's the quintessential iron fist in a velvet glove; needs time.

93 Far Niente 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $100
Earthy, meaty and spicy—it's what Napa Cabernet is supposed to be. Perfectly balanced, smooth and totally correct, there's cherry and chocolate in spades, lots of grip, and in the end it's all about class and performance.

93 Field Stone 1997 Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $38
Fine clarity of fruit, with coffee, cherry and nicely utilized oak. Intense flavors of blackberry, plum and cedar mark the palate, which displays a full texture. The long, smooth and tangy finish wraps it up nicely. Drinks well now; will be even better after two or three years.

93 Flora Springs 1997 Trilogy (Napa Valley) $45
With a sweet core of cherry fruit, plenty of tobacco and coffee nuances and other fine touches, this meritage blend hits the right chords and shows just the right weight. Deep, handsome, and fairly seamless; some light oak is applied skillfully, and in general the final product sings a pretty song.

93 Hartwell 1997 Sunshine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Stag's Leap District) $95
The word "black" applies to a number of things here: cherry, coffee, currant. Cola is another part of the fabulous mix. Tons of polish, and creamy and rich. A palate-pleaser supreme, there's a lot of class and breed here. Fine and fancy, with excellent weight. What more could you ask for?

93 Judd's Hill 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $45
Lovely stuff. It starts out smooth but tight, almost reticent, and then it just explodes with dark cherry, plum and black currant. The tannins virtually announce its cellar potential. Elegant, correctly balanced, ample grip and weighty enough. This is one pretty Cabernet, no doubt about it.

93 Kendall-Jackson 1997 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (California) $60
Rarely does a Caberent of this quality carry the basic
"California" appellation, but here it does, and who should care? Deep black fruit with perfect oak makes for the ultimate in integration. A long cocoa and spice finish closes the show. Wonderfully sweet, round and delicious.

93 Lail 1997 J. Daniel Cuvée (Napa Valley) $75
The complex nose, with its herb, tobacco, black pepper and licorice elements, announces this stylish 64% Cabernet-36% Merlot blend. In the mouth it is big and ripe, with blackberry and licorice flavors, and fine acidity. Closes long and brisk, with large tannins and espresso and cherry flavors. Cellar for five or more years.

93 Louis M. Martini 1997 Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $40
A can't-miss Cabernet with a rich nose of blackberry, plum, coffee and oak. It's so dense that the cassis, wood, and coffee flavors come across as being tarry. The smooth, stylish finish is packed full of woodiness, licorice and fine tannins. Simply put, it's full of style and a whole lot of fun to drink.

93 Merryvale 1997 Beckstoffer Vineyard Selection (Napa Valley) $45
Deep aromas of blackberry and leather with unusual nut and cookie dough accents proclaim this rich, flavorful offering. Nicely layered fruit, with black currant and cocoa accents on the palate. Everything rides on the full, supple mouthfeel before dipping into the dark, handsomely structured finish. Hold for at least three years.

93 Nickel & Nickel 1997 Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) $95
Polished, with blackberry, chocolate, tea and cedar aromas. Cocoa, black-cherry and cola accents add to the flavor of sour plums. The texture is suave and luxurious. Closes with dusty, soft tannins and some cocoa notes. Has good depth and claret-like poise. Approachable now; drink to 2010.

93 Sterling 1997 Diamond Mountain Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $40
The big, very dark and inviting nose of ripe cherry, licorice, cocoa and toast sets things up. The dense palate is packed with cherry, tar, even bacon notes, and it has a plush velvety feel that belies the wine's structure. The impressive finish is dark and toasty, with well-dispersed tannins. Cellar two to four years.

92 Beaulieu Vineyard 1997 Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $130

92 Beaulieu Vineyard 1997 Tapestry Reserve Red Wine (Napa Valley) $50

92 Davis Bynum 1997 Hedin Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Russian River Valley) $30

92 Cafaro 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $39

92 Chateau Potelle 1997 VGS Cabernet Sauvignon (Mount Veeder) $63

92 Clark-Claudon 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $78

92 Robert Craig 1997 Affinity (Napa Valley) $44

92 Gary Farrell 1997 Encounter Pine Mountain (Sonoma County) $42

92 Keenan 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $36

92 Lancaster 1997 Reserve (Alexander Valley) $65

92 Liparita 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $45

92 Nickel & Nickel 1997 Carpenter Vineyard Cabernet
Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $75

92 Nickel & Nickel 1997 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) $65

92 Paradigm 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) $48

92 Pride Mountain 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $36

92 St. Clement 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain) $65

92
St. Supéry 1997 Dollarhide Ranch Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $70

92 Salvestrin 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $41

92 Seavey 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $64

92 Signorello 1997 Padrone (Napa Valley) $125

92 Spring Mountain 1997 Reserve (Spring Mountain) $90

92 Staglin 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $65

92 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $35

92 Von Strasser 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain) $50

91 BlackJack Ranch 1997 Harmonie (Santa Barbara County) $32

91 August Briggs 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $50

91 Cain 1997 Cain Five (Spring Mountain) $75

91 Caymus 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $70

91 Chimney Rock 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $40

91 B. R. Cohn 1997 Olive Hill Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $38

91 Robert Craig 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mount Veeder) $44

91 Farella-Park 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $32

91 Fife 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain) $45

91 Frog's Leap 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30

91 Jessup Cellars 1997 Lauer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $39

91 Kendall-Jackson 1997 Elite Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $100

91 Kenwood 1997 Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $35

91 Langtry 1997 Meritage (North Coast) $50

91 J. Lohr 1997 Hilltop Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) $33

91 Robert Mondavi 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) $45

91 Robert Mondavi 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $120

91 Monticello 1997 Corley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)$65

91 Peju Province 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $45

91 Per Sempre 1997 Select Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $66

91 Martin Ray 1997 Synthesis Diamond Mountain Vineyard (Napa Valley) $50

91 Raymond 1997 Generations Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $65

91 Rosenblum 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $45

91 Swanson 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $40

91 Titus 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $32

90 Ahlgren 1997 Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains) $35

90 Anderson's Conn Valley 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $55

90 Bacio Divino 1997 Red Table Wine (Napa Valley) $75

90 Bartholomew Park 1997 Parks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $37

90 Bell 1997 Baritelle Vineyard Jackson Clone Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $60

90 Benziger 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) $45

90 Chalk Hill 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Chalk Hill) $50

90 Chappellet 1997 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $35

90 Clos Du Val 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Stag's Leap District) $48

90 Clos Pegase 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30

90 De Loach 1997 OFS Cabernet Sauvignon (Russian River Valley) $40

90 Dominus 1997 Napanook (Napa Valley) $30

90 Frazier 1997 Lupine Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $45

90 Guenoc 1997 Reserve Beckstoffer IV Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $41

90 Kendall-Jackson 1997 Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $45

90 Kathryn Kennedy 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains) $120

90 Livingston-Moffett 1997 Gemstone Vineyard (Napa Valley) $75

90 Lockwood 1997 VSR Meritage (Monterey) $45

90 Long Meadow Ranch 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $50

90 Robert Mondavi 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30

90 Murphy-Goode 1997 Sarah Block Swan Song Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $39

90 Napa Wine Company 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon $32
(Napa Valley)

90 Nickel & Nickel 1997 Rock Cairn Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) $75

90 Oakford 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) $85

90 Paoletti 1997 Non Plus Ultra (Napa Valley) $110

90 Robert Pecota 1997 Kara's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $35

90 Peju Province 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $95

90 Joseph Phelps 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $35

90 R & B Cellars 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $74

90 Rosenblum 1997 Holbrook Mitchell Trio (Napa Valley) $30

90 St. Francis 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $40

90 Sterling 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $60

90 Stonestreet 1997 Christopher's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $70

90 Wattle Creek 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $50

90 Whitehall Lane 1997 Leonardini Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $75

90 Whitehall Lane 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $60

89 Anderson's Conn Valley 1997 Eloge (Napa Valley) $80

89 Bartholomew Park 1997 Alta Vista Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $36

89 August Briggs 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Mountain) $50

89 Cain 1997 Concept (Napa Valley) $42

89 Chimney Rock 1997 Elevage (Stags's Leap District) $52

89 Dry Creek Vineyard 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Dry Creek Valley) $35

89 Flora Springs 1997 Rutherford Hillside Reserve $65
Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)

89 Herzog 1997 Special Edition Warnecke Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Chalk Hill) $42

89 Karl Lawrence 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $40

89 Lolonis 1997 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Redwood Valley) $30

89 Mayo 1997 Los Chamizal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $35

89 Merryvale 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $39

89 Robert Mondavi 1997 SLD Cabernet Sauvignon (Stag's Leap District) $45

89 Pine Ridge 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain) $50

89 Riboli Family 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) (Stag's Leap District) $45

89 Shafer 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $45

89 Spring Mountain 1997 Miravalle-La Perla-Chevalier (Spring Mountain) $50

89 The Terraces 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $60

89 Thunder Mountain 1997 Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains) $48

89 Topel 1997 Hidden Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendocino) $45

89 M. Trinchero 1997 Founder's Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $40

88 Arbios 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $35

88 Bartholomew Park 1997 Kasper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $41

88 Burgess 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $33

88 Chimney Rock 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Stag's Leap District) $80

88 B. R. Cohn 1997 Olive Hill Estate Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley) $100

88 Cosentino 1997 M. Coz (Napa Valley) $100

88 Elan 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Atlas Peak) $45

88 Fife 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30

88 Guenoc 1997 Bella Vista Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $41

88 Legacy 1997 Red Table Wine (Alexander Valley) $90

88 Liparita 1997 Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $65

88 Murrieta's Well 1997 Vendimia (Livermore Valley) $32

88 Snowden 1997 Lost Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30

88 Trefethen 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $30

87 Folie à Deux 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $36

87 Imagery 1997 Rancho Salina Vineyard $35
(Sonoma Valley)

87 Laurel Glen 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Mountain) $50

87 Paoletti 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $48

86 Eberle 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) $30

86 Herzog 1997 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $32

86 Jordan 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) $45

86 Miner 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) $60

86 Santo Stefano 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $30

86 Stonestreet 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley) $35

86 Sullivan 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) $45

85 Chateau Woltner 1997 Private Reserve (Howell Mountain) $50

85 Rusack 1997 Anacapa (Santa Ynez Valley) $32

84 Thunder Mountain 1997 Miller Vineyards Doc's Cabernet Sauvignon (Cienega Valley) $48

82 Ahlgren 1997 Harvest Moon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains) $33

 

HOW WE DO THE TASTING

Several times a year, the Wine Enthusiast tasting panel conducts large-scale tastings that focus on a single type of wine or wine region, often from a particular vintage or covering a specific price range. For this tasting, producers of ultrapremium California Cabernet Sauvignons and blends were invited to submit samples of their wines that retail for $30 or more and that would be released before the end of 2000.

All wines were tasted blind in Riedel glassware, in flights of five, by two or more full members of the tasting panel and one associate member. No more than three flights were tasted in any given day. Wines considered flawed or uncustomary were retasted from separate bottles in later flights to check initial impressions. Full members were Mark Mazur, tasting director; Michael Schachner, senior editor; and Joe Czerwinski, associate editor. Associate members were Martin Neschis and Josh Farrell.

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