A Vertical Tasting at Pride

Notes from a 20-year retrospective tasting event.


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Pride Mountain Winery—a 235-acre estate in California—made its first wines in 1991 and quickly established a reputation for producing big, bold, tannic Cabernet Sauvignons, marked by concentrated mountain fruit. It was once burnished by the founding winemaker, Bob Foley, and has been maintained by Sally Johnson since she took the reins in 2006.

The grapes come from the estate vineyard, which sprawls across Spring Mountain at roughly 2,100 feet, six miles up a winding, narrow road above St. Helena. Because the vineyard spreads across Napa and Sonoma counties, the Reserve Cabernet labels reflect both designations—a fact the Pride family is anxious to reassure people does not mean the wines are blended from different vineyards. I have given high scores to their wines over the years, with many recommendations to cellar them, so when the family invited me to attend a 20-year retrospective tasting, I excitedly agreed to attend.

The estate vineyard—situated where summer fogs blanket it at night and into the morning—is cooler than the valley floor during the day by as much as 12ºF, yet warmer at night, making for a modulated growing season. If the tasting substantiated anything, it was that the wines have a remarkable consistency, despite the vagaries of vintage variation. These are deeply flavored, rich wines that are drinkable young, but also capable of aging. They’re infused with the modern, international style of ripe oakiness, with minerality and tannic depth contributed by terroir, ensuring they never lose balance or integrity.

For my mini- reviews, I did not award numerical ratings, since the wines were not tasted blind. I also omitted a few older wines that were made before Foley hit his stride and were not showing well.

1994 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The outstanding bouquet is rich with blackberry jam on buttered toast, a touch of bacon and green olive. Sweet and soft, with firm tannins, this wine is dry, with no trace of decay. Tremendous now and should hold and improve.

1995 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Still tastes young and vigorous, with the fruit just beginning to dry out, like reconstituted dried blackberries. Tannic, dry and cedary, with firm minerality. I preferred this to the 1994 because it’s more elegant and classy. Should continue to evolve.

1996 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins are fierce, giving the wine a chalky bite of astringency. Bone dry, rich and spicy with blackberries. It’s a touch rustic, but may just be coming into its own. Hold until 2015.

1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. A dramatic, massive wine, with huge intensity and pure essence of mountain Cabernet. Nearly perfect in finesse, balance and elegance, it stands out in this flight. Nowhere near its peak, and absolutely delicious.

1998 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. An outlier, this wine seems to have a touch of mold. Tastes very sweet with cherry jam and buttered cinnamon toast, sprinkled with brown sugar. Pretty good for a ’98, which suffered from rain at harvest.

1999 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Big and rich with flavors of blackberry, cherry, smoky cedar, dried herbs and minerals. Firm, hard tannins provide backbone; it’s a bold and intensely masculine Cab that’s nowhere near ready. The classic example of a Pride Reserve wine.

2000 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Tastes so young and fresh, it could be a 2007. Bone dry with crisp acidity and big, chalky tannins. Needs lots of time. Hold until 2018, at least.

2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry, tannic and amazingly youthful for 10 years old. Scads of blackberry, currant, cedar and spice flavors, with a touch of bacon fat. Defines opulence. Powerful, ripe, succulent, but needs lots of time. Try after 2018.

2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet with flavors of blackberry and blueberry jam, and milk chocolate, yet no mere fruit bomb. Great tannin structure (partly from oak) and rich with minerals. A little soft, but flashy and flamboyant. Peaking in primary fruit expression, just starting to develop tertiary characteristics.

2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Continues the theme of sweet, ripe and succulent fruits like black cherries and raspberries, mocha, sandalwood and spice. Fresh and pure as a daisy. Fine now and should develop for years.

2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Seems a bit too soft and simple, especially in this lineup—a controversial wine at the tasting. Steve Pride said Bill Foley picked it a little too early, as he was concerned with oncoming heat. Jammy with blackberries, blueberries, cassis and mocha, but lacks subtlety. An outlier.

2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of baby fat on this plush young wine. It’s sweet with raspberries and cherries, yet has a dry finish. The epitome of Napa ripeness and opulence, it’s rich with mountain concentration and that typical Pride balance and elegance. Needs time.

2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Black in color, it reveals little except massive blackberry jam and new oak. Amazingly sweet and pure in fruit. Dramatic and refined, with great intensity. Bow down to this very great Cabernet, which contains 5% Petit Verdot. Should begin to blossom in 2018.

2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Big, rich, thick, sweet, extracted, jammy and chocolaty. Right now it’s all flash and dazzle. Showy, for sure, and should develop over the next 4–5 years, if not far longer.

2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak stands out right now on this young, jammy Cabernet. It has tons of blackberry and cherry fruit, spices and cedar. A fat, soft, silky wine that’s ripe and dramatic. A bit clumsy in its youth, but has a promising future.

2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Just bottled, this classic Cabernet is very rich and dramatic, with blackberries, black currants, cedar and minerals. With robust tannins, this wine is stupendous, guaranteed to have a long life ahead.

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