Affordable, Expensive Washington Wines Upstage Napa Cab Blind Tasting

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What started off as a chance to taste small production 2007 Napa Cabs turned into an intriguing game of "guess which one is from Washington?" at a recent blind tasting. Fellow Boston-area wine blogger Adam Japko (Wine-Zag.com) lined up 6 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley ranging from $30 to $125 then added a twist: Two of the wines mixed into the lineup were from Washington State.

The Washington vs. California angle wasn't so much the story as the specific wines he chose to throw into the mix: The $125 2007 Quilceda Creek Galatzine Vineyard Cabernet (97 Wine Advocate) and a $10 wine you can find in any supermarket in America: The 2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet. The results might surprise you...read on.

The evening started off with a tasting of older Stony Hill Chardonnays: 1990, 1991, 1993, and 1997. These wines weren't my favorites - they were kind of just "there" at best and in one case they took on spirit-like flavors (the 1991). I thought the 1997 was slightly corked. Overall, I was reminded of a recent Tweet from Garagiste: "alcohol never dissipates- fruit does". These wines were at a reasonable 13% - how will wines north of 15% fare in 20 years? Not so well I think.

We tasted the Cabernets in two flights of 4. For whatever reason I liked the wines from the first flight a lot more than the second.

Here are my notes on the wines, ranked in order from what I thought was best to worst: 

2007 Stanton Cabernet Sauvignon
$75/NR

Most tannic of the first flight. A big wine with a delicious Napa Cab flavor profile of blackberries, black currant, and some savory notes. Great now but will get better as the tannins integrate. I guessed this was the Realm for whatever reason but I was mistaken.

This wine was also the crowd favorite.

93/100 WWP: Outstanding 

2007 Quilceda Creek Galatzine Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State)
$125/97 Wine Advocate

Herbaceous eucalyptus and bell pepper notes. Powerful with gritty tannins. Long finish.Very high quality, but not my style.

The crowd voted this wine 5th place out of 8 - a surprisingly low showing for a $125 wine rated 97 points.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding


2007 Taken Napa Valley Cabernet
$30/NR

Slightly sweet fruit. Some pleasant coconut aromas. Smooth. Quite nice. Drinking nicely for such a young wine.

90/100 WWP: Outstanding

2007 Mica Napa Valley Cabernet
$75/NR

A delicious and flavorful fruit-forward single-note kind of wine. Is this the Columbia Crest?

No, it wasn't the Columbia Crest - though others thought it might be too.

89/100 WWP: Outstanding

Emerson Brown Napa Valley Cabernet
$50/NR

Closed nose. Awkward, but I can see this one improving with time. Caught some acetone aromas perhaps?

86/100 WWP: Very Good

Ad Vivum Napa Valley Cabernet
$125/89 Wine Advocate

Grippy. Kind of bitter. Very tannic. Hot.

A pretty poor showing for a $125 wine.

84/100 WWP: Good

Realm Farella Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet
$95/91+ Wine Advocate/90 Wine Spectator

Meaty. Smells like a ball park hot dog, and a bit like spoiled produce behind a grocery store. Smoky. Lots of grip. Drying tannins.

Finished 2nd amongst the crowd.

83/100 WWP: Good

2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet
$10/89 Wine Spectator

Flat, bitter, rough. Caramel. Smells like a wood shop.

3rd place amongst the crowd which is quite an accomplishment considering it sells for 90% less than the top wines in the tasting and a-third the most affordable wine.

82/100 WWP: Good

Conclusions and Outlook

I'm a big fan of Napa Cab and I've had some good experiences with the vintage so far. But trying to guess which wine was the famous Quilceda Creek and which was the lowly Grand Estates was so much fun - it stole the show!

I was surprised how well the Columbia Crest did with the crowd as well as how little I thought of it personally - I've really enjoyed that wine in prior vintages. The Columbia Crest Grand Estate Cab and Merlot (along with their next-level-up H3 bottling) are my go-to grocery store recommendations. I'm still a fan - just not of this bottle on this night.

It was a treat trying the Quilceda Creek. I've heard so much about their wines, and although I'd never tasted it before I wasn't surprised which it was. The quality was undeniable even if its flavor profile didn't align with what I'm looking for in a domestic Cab.

Almost all of these wines will benefit from bottle age, but it's fun checking out wines when they're more readily available. Stanton, my top pick and the crowd favorite as well, doesn't seem to be widely distributed at retail. Here's a link to their website if you're interested in checking them out.

I was surprised and kind of bummed the Realm didn't show better for me. That was one of the few producers I'd heard of before and I was looking forward to trying it. Others liked it so maybe I was off my game after the intermission. Oh well - I guess I saved myself $95 tasting it instead of buying a bottle.

Adam puts on great tastings - my thanks to him for hosting me and others at this event. He's such a generous, kind, and wide open kind of guy. Definitely check out his wine blog when you have a chance - especially his piece that focuses on the Stony Hill Chardonnays at this tasting.

Question of the Day: Have you had any of these wines? If so what do you think of these results? If not, what are some of your recent discoveries in Napa or Washington Cab?

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