'74 Goes Silver
Tasting 20 of the best from
this famed California vintage
(April 28, 1999) What were you doing twenty-five years ago? In Napa and Sonoma
counties, growers were getting set for the first of several claimants to "vintage of
In view of this silver anniversary, some of us hardcore wine
nuts got to wondering how the 1974s are holding up. And, well, one thing led to another.
Last night, at Pennsylvanias Inn at Historic Yellow
Springs, we gathered for the ultimate celebration. By evenings end we had opened
and tasted no less than 20 of the best wines from the vintage. Including a number from
magnum and one -- a fantastic performance -- from double mag.
First we tasted through most of the wines, while nibbling
crackers, pate, cheese and hors doeuvres. Then we sat down to a Cab-friendly dinner, to enjoy five of the vintages
most famous bottles at leisure.
Yes, it was nice. Heres how the wines did, listed in the
order that I tasted them. Note that we started at 6:30 p.m. and, as the sun went down, I
was less able to judge the colors of the wines.
Concannon Estate (from magnum). Garnet with amber at the edge. Earth, tar and
asphalt aromas, but some fruit emerges on the palate. This wines alive, but way past
**Spring Mountain (from magnum). Medium ruby edged with garnet. Aromas of
tobacco and toast. Lots of bottle bouquet. Lingering finish. Nice going! A lot better than
*Louis Martini Zinfandel Special Selection (from magnum). Medium ruby edged with
garnet. You can smell oxidation, but then cassis emerges and its still very lively
on the palate. Starts out tasting like a Cab, but strawberry flavors chime in. Very
elegant and distinctive in its own right. Fascinating!
*Simi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Garnet edged by amber. Peppery, with
Bordeaux-type herbs and lots of sweet fruit at the core. Yum. Hope Canandaigua
doesnt ruin this grand old winery!
*Simi Special Vintage Zinfandel. Round, ripe cherry flavors. Very fruity indeed
and totally different from the Simi Cab. Younger tasting than the Martini Zin, but perhaps
not as complex.
Burgess Vintage Selection. A meteor. Starts out with lovely, ripe, meaty aromas,
then fades fast. In fifteen minutes, theres not much worth tasting.
*Souverain Vintage Selection. Garnet edged with amber. Lots of cassis that then
dissolves to strawberry. Then holds and fans out. Quite a graceful old gal. Good wine!
Charles Krug Vintage Selection. Starts with light berry flavors and pepper. A
bit short. Hangs in for ten minutes and gradually fades.
**Mount Eden Vineyards. Still very dark. Peppery and intensely grapey. Full on
the palate. Gathers cocoa overtones. Holds well throughout the evening. A winner!
Inglenook Limited Cask. Overripe. Too much so. Smoke, raisins, nuts. More
raisins and pepper when you taste. Alive, but I guess age has only intensified its
Freemark Abbey. Corked. Way corked. So corked, we pass it around so that folks
can understand the true meaning of TCA.
??Chateau Montelena. Tempts you with big aromas of violets and cassis. But then
you taste -- and this one too is corked! This time its marginal, but still throws a
veil over the fruit. Too bad! Might have been one of the top tier otherwise.
*+Sterling Estate. Garnet, edged with a trace of amber, but still has a lot of
oomph. Plenty of ripe cassis with impressive length. Terrific showing for this
"regular" bottling. (See notes on the reserve below.) Just a hint of oxidation.
Clos du Val. Still alive, but seems kind of tart and thin. Not to my taste.
***Robert Mondavi Reserve (from 750 ml). Were opening this one now so we
can compare it with the 3-Liter bottle that well have over dinner. Wow! Violets,
currents, cigarette, terrific! Big nose that follows through on the palate. Dances around
with lots of finesse and makes a dandy finish.
Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve (from 375). Ive heard
tales of bottle variation concerning this wine, but personally Ive always lucked out
-- until tonight. Now I know what people were complaining about. Garnet to amber at the
edge. Nothing much to taste but raisins, pepper and tar. Ive certainly had far
better bottles. What was going on when they bottled this wine?
***Heitz Marthas Vineyard. Oh yeah! Still purple at the center of the
glass and ruby at the rim. Lots and lots of floral aromas. Very deep cassis flavors,
followed by vanilla. What a wine!
***+Robert Mondavi Reserve (from double magnum). At first, I wondered if this
bottling was less powerful than the regular bottle. Then I realized, it still has tannins
to shed on the finish! See above, and add a bit more. A great wine thats the very
model of California Cabernet Sauvignon. WINE OF THE EVENING.
***Sterling Vineyards Sterling Reserve. Pow! Tremendously deep cassis and
vanilla flavors. Incredibly pure and intense! What giants walked forth from the cellars of
Sterling, once upon a time. (Wayttago, Ric Forman.)
**Stags Leap Wine Cellars. A delightfully different set of flavors. The
expected blackcurrant, plus plum and cherry. Not quite as young as the Mondavi, but what
could be? Those who think wines that drink well young cant age should get a taste of
Now for a few observations.
First, I was genuinely surprised at how well the Zinfandels
performed. This was the first time I was able to compare Zins and Cabs at such an advanced
age, and the Zins were surely not disgraced. They also showed perceptibly different
flavors than the Cabs. All that being said, none of them were in the very top tier of
Second, its been said that a truly great vintage must be
consistent down the line -- no dogs. I tend to agree, and by that measure, 1974 qualifies.
Although some of the wines were definitely on the downslope, none were total goners. Even
the weakest ones were showing some fruit. Thats pretty impressive after 25 years.
Third, the Mondavi Reserve from double magnum did indeed seem
younger than its counterpart in the regular-sized bottle. A vote for larger formats.
Fourth, although the top 6 to 8 wines were showing just
beautifully, Im not sure Id push any of them much further. Even the Heitz
Marthas seemed like it had faded just a bit toward the end of our meal. (On the
other hand, the Mondavi Reserve from double magnum seemed positively indestructible.)
Many thanks to The Benevolent and Viniferous Order of
Convivial Sipsters for organizing this blowout. A tip of the cork also to B.V.O.C.S.
member and Inn proprietor Charlie Orlando -- not only for providing many of the
wines from his personal cellar, but also for laying out a magnificent dinner in this
Want to get hungry? Click here
to see the menu.
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