a rare vertical tasting of caymus special selection cabs

Thursday, March 01, 2012

My Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival experience is off to a great start, with more to write about than the pathetically limited amount of free time I have could possibly allow. Yesterday I rose early, and took Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight from Seattle to Vancouver. A totally great way to do the trip. I rode in comfort, worked the whole way (free wi-fi and accessible power are right at your seat), enjoyed the stellar views (the windows were sparkling clean) and got a nice snack at the coffee bar. The ticket cost $38 – less than what I would have spent on gas had I driven.

My hosts have lodged me in the Times Square Suites, a spacious, well-maintained hotel alternative. It’s a bit like a VRBO rental, only with on-site management. Most importantly, the bed is very comfy and the rooms, though on a busy intersection, quiet enough for a good night’s sleep.

I arrived in time for one of the week’s showcase tastings – seven vintages of Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Chuck Wagner was the host. This reserve level wine, made since 1976, has always (until 2008) been 100% Cabernet.

The vintages presented were spaced about three years apart, a clever way to demonstrate the aging curve of the wine. Wagner admitted that for him the sweet spot was somewhere between 6 and 8 years of age (“I guess it’s because I taste a lot of very young wine” he explained). The percentage of new oak (now about one quarter) and the time in oak before bottling (down from four years to 18 months) has evolved over the years, as have many of the vineyard practices. Brix levels are about two degrees higher, and severe sorting of the berries is done. The wines were poured in crystal clear Riedels, and I spent the better part of 90 minutes going through them, watching them evolve, listening to the comments, and ultimately making my own ranking. Here are my notes, with the score I would give the wine today:

1994 – Pungent, spicy, minty, black at the center and orange at the rim. Aromas are roasted and smoky, flavors of dried raisins and figs, dark chocolate, balsamic. Excellent density and a long finish, though for me, sliding past its peak. (92)

1997 – My least favorite. High-toned and volatile, it felt out of balance, showing too much heat and a vinegary sourness. The result of an unusually warm vintage. (89)

1999 – The most Bordeaux-like, with a strong herbal streak. Pretty blackberry and black cherry flavors in a super-saturated wine, supple, tasting of plum pudding, with smooth tannins. For me, drinking just about perfectly. (95)

2002 – Another ripe wine, with flavors of juicy blackberries, fig and prune. Just a hint of herb and stem, with excellent balance throughout. Tasty, but did not show the depth and detail of the ’99. (91)

2005 – This was the wine that Chuck Wagner felt was at the optimal age, and it was certainly delicious. Showing plenty of sweet barrel scents, the gorgeous aromatics moved into a nicely-integrated palate loaded with berry, cherry and plum. The sweet fruit was wrapped in layers of toast, caramel, accents of bacon fat, and smooth tannins. (94)

2008 – Quite young, with sweet blueberry aromas. This seemed broader and more front-loaded than the earlier wines, delicious and full, with black cherry, cinnamon and sweet baking spices. When Wagner explained that for the first time it had included Merlot – about 14% – in the blend, it all made sense. Merlot would do exactly that – move the fruit flavors forward and broaden the mid-palate, though at some cost to the finish. (91)

2009 – The youngest of all, yet incredibly impressive. A powerful, dense, deeply fruited wine, packed with layer after layer of berry, cassis, espresso, clove and spice. With soft, almost buttery tannins, this wine really seduced me. My favorite of the night, I gave it a 96, before Wagner commented that “we love this vintage. It may be the best Special Selection we’ve ever made. Then we sent it to the Spectator and they gave it a 93. That hurt!”

Wagner Family of Wine

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Caymus SS has to be one of my absolute favorite Cabs. I'd have thought a 95-97 was attainable for the 2009 vintage - its simple awesome. There may be more expensive Cabs out there, but for my money, I'll take the Caymus SS any day.

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