eric asimov raids my cellar part two – the winner

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The two oldest wines poured last weekend at my tasting with Eric Asimov and Kevin Pogue were especially meaningful to me, and I was thrilled at how well they both performed.

The Chateau Ste. Michelle 1999 Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (14.1%) was sourced from a vineyard that I have long felt was the real diamond among the Chateau’s single vineyard offerings. I would suspect that this Cabernet came from some of the first vines planted there, which would have made them about 25 years old even back in ’99.

The 1999 vintage was a cool one in Washington, and upon release many, perhaps most of the Cabernets and other red wines were tannic and hard, with noticeable green flavors. And yet the structure and power were there if you looked. Many in the national press did not understand Washington wines all that well at the time, and this was certainly a Washington vintage, not a ripe and jammy California one. I remember reading more than a few reviews of wines that I very much admired that dismissed the vintage as poor.

But I think it has redeemed itself, with wines such as this.

At 13+ years of age, it is not only drinking well, but would seem to have many years of excellent life still ahead. The fruit has come up and rounded out – it’s almost what you’d have to call a pretty wine at this point. There are highlights of barrel spice, balancing acidity, a whiff of toast in the nose and a taste of barrel in the finish. It was a wine that all three of us admired, perhaps for different reasons, and agreed that it was drinking very very well.

But by unanimous acclaim, the highlight of the tasting was the Columbia Winery 1996 David Lake Signature Series Red Willow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. At just 13% alcohol, it was more than a full point lower than any other wine on the table. It came from what was (and still is) the coldest winter freeze in Washington since 1979. It was so bad in 1996 that one very famous winery had to purchase grapes from California and designate their wines “American”.

Given its location on the far western edge of the Yakima Valley, actually up in the eastern slopes of the Cascades, one might expect that Red Willow would have been hit especially hard. But it was protected by those slopes, and the excellent drainage. The late David Lake, who for many years was the only Master of Wine making wine in America, worked closely with vineyard owner Mike Sauer to plant and experiment with a wide variety of grapes, often the first to be grown in Washington. But amidst all the experiments, Cabernet was clearly king, and the David Lake Signature Series, though fairly short-lived, was designed to showcase the best blocks from the oldest vines.

This gorgeous wine impressed us all from the very first sniff. Made very much in an Old World Claret style, it displayed lovely evolution and finesse, finishing with a flourish. As it breathed open over several hours, it fleshed out in an appealing way, while still retaining a compelling, Bordeaux-like structure. The blend included 6% Cabernet Franc – quite unusual for the time. It was a truly lovely wine, one that validated David Lake’s lifelong dedication to a more austere, ageworthy style of winemaking. We raised our glasses to his memory, and drank the bottle dry.

1 comment:

Michele Rennie said...

When I saw your line up, I was waiting to see your impressions of these two wines. Having worked at both wineries managing their direct-to-consumer programs, I sent the '99 CSM Cold Creek Cab to our Vintage Reserve Club members. It remains a favorite vineyard, however, my heart soared when I read your remarks on the '96 Columbia Winery Red Willow Cab. David Lake crafted masterful wines and his collaboration with Mike Sauer at Red Willow is legendary.

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