Another look at top California cabernets from 2007

Back in November, I blogged about tasting a number of the best California cabernets out there, many of which were from the 2007 vintage, which has been praised by many critics as an excellent year for California cab.  Recently, I had a chance to taste some more (mostly pricey) 2007 cabernet sauvignons and cabernet blends from well-known producers, so here’s a little information to help you separate the wines that will exalt from those that will disappoint.

Again, I think there are important distinctions to be made on style.  For instance, those who like classic, Bordeaux-styled cabs with aromas and flavors of crushed rock, tobacco leaf and the like will find the 2007 Dominus (made by Christian Moueix, who could fairly be described as the king of Pomerol in Bordeaux) to be a wonderful, refined wine.  However, those that like their cabs to feature exuberant fruit as the main attraction might not like Dominus at all.  A better choice for these drinkers would be the 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia, which was just as impressive as it was when I tasted it late last year.

One of the producers that is zooming up my list of favorite cabernet sauvignons is Philip Togni.  Both the 2003 Togni cab tasted in November and the 2007 Togni cab showed impeccable balance to me – with pleasing fruit with enough lushness and toasty to make the wines unmistakably California cab, but also a great balance with earthiness and slightly herbal varietal character for lovers of old-school cabs.  There’s a definite argument that these are among the best balanced cabs around, with excellent ageability.

And speaking of old-school cabs, I recently tasted a cab, 2007 Trivium “Les Ivrettes”, whose winemakers have gone so far as to produce a manifesto that announces: “We set out to make a cabernet in the spirit of the years when we first got into the wine business in the 1970′s”… “This is your father’s cabernet.”

So does the wine live up to the manifesto? Well, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting – with that introduction, I was girding myself up for something along the lines of Chateau Montelena or Dominus – varietally correct for sure, but perhaps a bit green (in a way that I like) and what some would call “austere”.  The Trivium was not that.  Which is not to say that the wine doesn’t have something very classic about it.  Instead of an earthy Bordeaux-like cab, what I found was a wine that reminded me a lot of another classic – the Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Mondavi Reserves are among the best cabs I’ve ever had, and their hallmark for me is high-quality sweetish fruit, a touch of spice, and a food-friendly balance that doesn’t go over the top like some of the bigger cabs out there.  These elements were pretty much what I found in the Trivium, at a fraction of what the Mondavi Reserve would set you back (wine-searcher prices range from $55-67, vs. $85-125ish for the Mondavi Reserve).  The vineyard source for the Trivium is the Lewelling Estate in St. Helena, which may well be familiar to fans of Napa cab (and Doug Wight of Lewelling is one of the partners behind Trivium).  All in all, I’m not sure I would call the Trivium “old-school” on taste alone, but I followed the wine over several days and it’s undeniably delicious cab and the structure remained in place even on day 4, which bodes well for it to age to at least the 10 year mark in my estimation.  Besides the comparison to the Mondavi Reserve, at times the Trivium reminded me a bit of some of the Rivers-Marie cabs that I’ve liked a lot in the past as well, which is to say, I regard this as a nice new find that I will definitely look for in the future.

Full tasting notes on these wines and other notables like Foley Claret, Conn Valley cab and Karl Lawrence cab are below.  Hope your Memorial Day weekend is going great and filled with terrific wine!  -Alan

  • 2007 Trivium Cabernet Sauvignon Les Ivrettes Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena (5/5/2011)A very tasty cab – wasn’t as old-school as the winemakers’ “this is your father’s cabernet” manifesto seems to imply, at least to my palate, but this reminded me quite a bit of some good vintages of Mondavi Reserve cab that I’ve had in the past. The fruit is full and lush without being over the top, and leans toward the purple fruit end of the spectrum. There’s a bit of peppery spice here too, giving this some zip. Tasted over 4 days, and the deliciousness lasted throughout, boding well for at least medium-term ageability. Fruit is from the Lewelling Estate, but personally I preferred this wine compared to the 2007 Lewelling cab. Balance-wise, makes me think a bit of the 2006 or 2008 Rivers-Marie cabs as well. A really nice find for cab lovers. 92-94 points. (93 points)
  • 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia – USA, California, Napa Valley (3/12/2011)Immediately fruity and oaky nose, but well done. Sweet fruits create a nice perfume; this is very much in the Phelps house style, and this is an impressive version. Lush and oaky but tasty on the palate. Very appealing, with good concentration, with just enough juiciness to the red-fruitedness here to make it last. Reminds me a lot of the excellent 1994 Insignia. Tasted from 375mL. 94-96 (95 points)
  • 2007 Dominus Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley (3/12/2011)Leafy green cabernet nose with lead pencil and green pepper – very refined nose that I really liked. Old school in feel on the palate too – lots of green-leaning varietal character – tobacco, graphite, slight bell pepper. Delicious and again, refined and classic in style. 93-95 (94 points)
  • 2007 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (3/12/2011)Has a very nice balance – a little lushness to the fruit, a bit of spice, good color, good all around. A slight herby menthol pine note makes an appearance on the nose too. Juicy fruit, with good acidity to balance the spice and lush fruit. Moderate tannin showing. A toasty caramel note on the nose develops with some air. A lot to like about this wine. 93-95 (94 points)
  • 2007 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley (3/12/2011)Has a very pretty nose – leafy tobacco, and an earthiness that is mostly lacking in the other top cabs tasted today. My favorite nose of the day. Very strong, primary red-purple fruits on the palate. Very pretty wine. A bit fruitier than I expected from the earthy nose, and a shade simple. Reserving judgement a bit to see how this develops, but lots to like here. 92-95 (93 points)
  • 2007 Karl Lawrence Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (3/12/2011)Reticent nose. On the palate, creamier than I expected it to be. Reddish-purple fruits with a bit of spice, with vanilla accents. Solid, but not a blockbuster. 91-92 (91 points)
  • 2007 Robert Foley Claret – USA, California, Napa Valley (3/12/2011)On the nose, slightly lush fruit that comes off as a shade figgy. Not as sweet-fruited as the Insignia tasted before it. Some herbal elements and piney spice come out on the nose too, but on the palate, the oak here doesn’t quite integrate. The resultant combination of sweetish vanilla notes from the oak and the some slightly green character here give off a slight picklish note that gives me concern at this point. Otherwise, has decent structural elements so this may well come together in time. 91-92 (91 points)
  • 2007 Atticus John Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena (3/12/2011)A pretty nose, with pretty red-tinged cherry fruit and a slightly bushy, pine and menthol sense together with some spice that’s quite nice and adds interest here. Palate is a bit of a let down, slightly medicinal cherry-like fruit. 89+ (89 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

Wines in this report were tasted free of charge at retailer tastings open to the public, with the exception of the Trivium, which was tasted from a review sample bottled received free of charge.

3 thoughts on “Another look at top California cabernets from 2007

  1. Alan…
    Your point about our not being totally ‘old-school’ (in taste profile) is probably accurate. We owe that, in large part, to the nature of the Lewelling Ranch. It’s an exceptional piece of property that tends to produce wines with more polished, softer tannins and rounded flavors. I think that’s the ‘bench’ influence. You see it in almost all the wines that come from Lewelling, and in fact in many ‘benchland’ vineyards on the western side of the Valley. It’s not surprising, therefore, that you listed the Mondavi Reserves as comparable.

    To your point, I guess our manifesto is more about winemaking practice than flavor profile. Our approach today is similar to that practiced back in the 70’s in it’s simplicity and it’s restraint. It’s all we knew at the time! The fact is that we could never reproduce a Bordeaux’ taste from our small block in Lewelling, no matter how restrained our approach. That being said, Trivium’s more moderate practices produce an interesting contrast to many of the noteworthy wines made from Lewelling Ranch fruit. That’s where our ‘old school’ really shows.

    Stu Harrison
    Partner, Stanfield & Stuart Wine Co.

  2. Hi Stu, and thanks for writing in. That explanation makes a lot of sense, and I definitely do see the restraint in your wine – no need for California wine to have to taste like Bordeaux; it should just showcase the terroir of it’s origin, right? Your comments about benchland plots are consistent with my experience with wines like Quintessa with their Rutherford Bench site, and various wines I’ve tasted with Oakville bench sources. The Trivium was a nice first foray for me into the character of wines from the St. Helena bench. Readers, for more about this phenomenon, check out this article that I found while researching Trivium:

    Thanks again for your additional insights, Stu, and I look forward to trying your wine again in the future. Cheers,


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