Prompted by the film Bottle Shock, there is a lot of talk these days about the famous Paris tasting in 1976. It was then that everyone realized that Napa Valley could compete on a wine world stage. In 1998 a similar tasting was repeated in San Francisco with some new additions, including the 1995 Clark-Claudon Cabernet.
The tasting was organized by Gordon Getty in conjunction with the Headlands Foundation Wine Auction. A stellar panel of wine gurus blind tasted 42 wines including each French First Growth & every California Cult Cabernet. In addition, a number of up and coming wineries were included.
We were pleased just to be invited to participate. That pleasure turned to pure thrill when we heard that our 1995 Estate Cabernet took a very strong first place. Again, a Napa Cabernet won the tasting, but not just any Napa Cab, it was ours!
If that tasting was repeated again today I wonder what the outcome would be. As Eric Asimov deftly discussed on August 19th; New York Times, The Pour, “The prevailing style of Napa Cabernet today emphasizes power, weight and extravagance.” A very different animal from the wines that won in ’76 or our 1995 Cabernet that won in 1998. Yet, he goes on to say, “…a small but significant number of Cabernet producers form a kind of alternate Napa universe. They are making wines of balance and restraint that are a direct link to Napa’s past, when wines…forged the region’s reputation as a source of great Cabernet Sauvignon.” Asimov then named Clark-Claudon as one of those, “alternate universe” producers.
On August 7th, in the Long Beach, CA Press Telegram, staff writer Eric Nolan writes, “There are many merchants and restaurant sommeliers who believe California’s vintners have strayed off course…Finding wines made in styles similar to the classics of ’76 is the tricky part. It means gravitating to winemakers who don’t follow rating chasing fads. For Cabernet purism, Stromer of the Woodland Hills Wine Company suggests Clark-Claudon.”
I appreciated Azimov’s, Nolan’s & Stromer’s views. Finally the pendulum is beginning to swing back again.
Napa Chardonnay went through a similar evolution about 10 tears ago. The extravagent wines being produced at first dazzled and then diminished its popularity. Chardonnay sales took years to recover as people sought out varitals that were lighter in style with food friendly balance. Thankfully, though you can still find those huge Chards, today there are many lovely alternatives available.
Napa Cabernet is going through the same growing pains. The bigger is better logic has prevailed for a number of years. Yet, many previous Cab drinkers have switched to Pinot, a wine much lighter in style. Still the fruit bomb Cabs tend to get the very high scores. In a blind tasting they jump out of the glass always attracting attention. But, we trust that the pendullum will continue the swing that has begun, back to more complex, nuanced Cabernets that speak from where they come.
I believe the ideal Cabernet combines the best of both the old and the new world. We strive to produce a wine that is elegant, nuanced & balanced with beautiful varietal fruit character; a wine that is invitingly seductive rather than obtuse; a wine that is delicious upon release, but also worthy of aging. Most importantly, we want our wines to represent their origin rather than score seeking, over ripe fruit & manipulation in the winery. If that makes me old fashoned, I guess I will happily own it!
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