Friday, April 16, 2010

Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 to 2005 from Dalla Valle

If one were to establish a classification of vineyards in Napa Valley, the 10.50 hectares vineyard of Dalla Valle would be one of the first to gain status as a grand cru. This estate was founded in 1982 when Gustave Dalla Valle and his wife Naoko bought an estate on a plateau on the eastern side of Oakville. Their intention was to create a spa and fine dining restaurant, but destiny wanted something else. In 1984, the couple begun to plant their 10.50 hectare vineyard with its great reddish volcanic soils with Bordeaux grape varieties and a small winery was set up to be used for their first harvest in 1986.
Heidi Peterson-Barrett was hired as their winemaker from 1987, and within a few years both Dalla Valle and its wines, and Heidi were well known in the valley. Heidi became famous when Screaming Eagle earned cult status already after its first release in 1992. At Dalla Valle, two wines were made, the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and a top selection wine called Maya after their daughter Maya, born in 1987. The latter wine is a blend of approximately 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 45 percent Cabernet Franc.
The Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was first made in 1986, and production can normally reach around 1 500 cases per year, but during the short life of this great estate, the vineyard has been subject to replanting a few times and the actual production has almost always been much less. In the 2000s, it’s only down to 300 to 500 cases per year, hence the difficulties to find a bottle of two.
Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon is normally a blend of 85-88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc. Fermentation takes place in small stainless steel tanks, and the wine is then transferred into French oak barrels, only 30-40 percent new, during 18-20 months. Since it’s neither clarified nor filtered, it will show sediment already in young vintages.
It is truly a grand vin, one of the most complex in its kind in Napa Valley. A unique vertical tasting like this shows that without any doubts. Also, the wine ages beautifully, and show wonderful complex aromas with 10-15 plus years of bottle age. If you’re looking for power, ripe fruit, concentration and spicy oak, you’ll have to look somewhere else.

1993 Cabernet Sauvignon / 92
Only the greatest of vineyards and winemakers can handle a difficult vintage, and difficult is what 1993 was. Still, this wine is very good and I would even use the word sensational. Color is mature, yet dark, and the nose is a bit developed with notes of cedar, tobacco and hints of chocolate, but there are enough primary fruit aromas (predominately cassis) with lovely sweetness to surprise. Only a few cabernets from 1993 show this lovely, vital and elegant quality, Harlan Estate is one of the few, and for sure Dalla Valle has made a fantastic wine. On the palate, the wine is medium intense, surprisingly fruity (again sweet cassis) and lively with a fine acidity and traces of minerals, and the tannins are present and not yet perfectly rounded, so there is enough structure to make the wine keep for some more years. However, the wine looses a bit of its intensity on the glass, so I guess it’s time to drink it soon. Decanting right before serving it is recommended.
Drink it 2010-2013.

1995 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96
This is the second time over the last 4 months I taste this wine, and again it shows beautifully. Although almost 15 years old, it shows a great nose with loads of dark fruits, a hint of cassis, and fine notes of tobacco, cedar and also mint, which is a bit odd – not other vintages shows that. On the palate, it’s rich and intense, again with an almost youthful dark fruit with just small notes of mature flavors. To be 15 years old, the tannic structure is remarkable and young, but the overall balance is great. With air, the wine opens up beautifully, just like the other bottle some months ago, so obviously this vintage is great and still has a good life to look forward to.
Drink it 2010-2020.

1996 Cabernet Sauvignon / 95
There are a lot of similarities between the 1995 and 1996, but the 1996 is a bit lighter and therefore more elegant. Also, and I guess it’s due to its lighter body, traces of grassiness and tea comes through the fruit, but it’s not about unripe fruit – rather a personality of a cooler vintage and the more elegant Cabernet Franc. The elegance is also seen on the palate, where fine mineral notes tickle the tongue and gives that interesting nerve to the wine. As with the 1995 wine, the secondary aromas are mostly noticed in the lingering aftertaste. It’s a lovely wine (some tasters preferred it over the 1995 vintage, I didn’t) with great complexity, but it loses a bit of its intensity and magic after a while in the glass.
Drink it 2010-2015.

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon / 90?
The 1997 Napa Valley vintage has been admired, awarded and highly praised since its release. Vintners loved it, winemakers too, wine writers talked about it as the vintage of the century (already, after just two vintages!) and wine collectors went crazy to buy as much great wines they could. By all means it is a great vintage, but over the last years, many wines have already started to show more maturity than expected. The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from Dalla Valle is just one of them, and I’m actually quite disappointed on this wine. Not that it is bad, it’s not, but with a firm tannic structure that’s not at all showing maturity, the fruit has already started to dry out and fade away. That’s a bad sign. Although the nose is just lovely with a quite dense dark fruit (typical of the vintage), the notes of tobacco and cedar, and even dark chocolate, are a bit too much developed. I would love to drink this wine to a steak, or a dish with chicken or veal, with a creamy sauce or a side order with a creamy texture to integrate the dry tannins. But I wouldn’t keep it much longer.
Drink it 2010-2012.

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93
Talk about a statement! I have always claimed that a great vineyard and a great winemaker are able to make a great wine even in a difficult vintage. The 1998 vintage of California is such a vintage, damp and cool and very late. Most vintners didn’t do so well, mostly because they harvested before the grapes had reached full phenolic ripeness, but also because they didn’t work enough in the vineyards, with yield reduction and a strict selection. Compared with the other vintages in the 90s, this wine doesn’t have the same intensity and perfume, but it is very elegant and complex and does show a relatively dark and actually ripe fruit, as well as notes of tobacco and lead pencils. Also on the palate, it shows more finesse and riper structure than expected with no greenish or bitter tannins, although there are notes of tea that reveals the cooler vintage. The aftertaste is fine, but not as long as the one in the riper vintages. This is an outstanding effort in a vintage that wasn’t on the vintner’s side.
Drink it 2010-2015.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon / 90-91?
It might have been a not perfect bottle, although good enough to jump over 90 points, with a slight odd and musky note on the nose. It wasn’t corked, but not perfectly clean. Even so, the nose is medium intense, quite lovely and dense with dark fruit, perfectly well integrated oak flavors and just some notes of tobacco and ancho chile which give some complexity and reveals that this wine has entered its first stage of maturity.
Drink it 2010-2015.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96
A great vintage with high expectations, and Dalla Valle delivered. The color is dark and almost purple, and the nose is rich and loaded with dark fruit – still elegant rather than concentrated. Also, it’s very pure and the oak flavors are perfectly well integrated. One thing that shows the greatness of this wine is how well the rich aromas keep in the glass – after one hour it continue to open up. On the palate it shows a good concentration of dark berries, mainly black currants and also blueberries, tannins are young and firm but ripe and therefore well integrated, and the lively acidity and fine mineral notes add elegance to the long taste. Drinking it today, it needs decanting a good hour prior to serving it.
Drink it 2012-2025.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96-97
As with 2001 vintage, this wine offers a wonderful balance. Color is even darker and almost opaque, and although it’s packed with ripe and dark fruit, predominantly cassis and blueberries, it takes some time for the nose to open up. For the first time in this vertical tasting, oak flavors are present on the nose with just a hint of vanilla and toffee, yet well balanced by the fruit. Compared to the 2001 vintage, this vintage is a bit more youthful and concentrated, and I’d prefer to let it mature for another year or two before some more elegant element shine through the fruit. Still, it is a lovely and very much enjoyable wine.
Drink it 2013-2025.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon / 93-94
With a warm vintage like 2004, the ripeness of the fruit is higher than in the previous vintages, also the alcohol is 14.8 percent instead of 13.5 to 14.0 percent. I don’t mind the higher alcohol here, it’s well balanced in the richer body and sweeter fruit, but what’s make this wine different from the other vintages, is the spicy and toasty oak flavors. I guess the winemaker wanted to use a higher toast level of the barrels to match the tannins and sweeter fruit of this particular vintage. On the palate, it’s rich and ripe, however the sweetness of the fruit is balanced by the greater tannins, but I would love to see the fresh acidity and mineral notes more – as of today, they are a bit hidden in the rich fruit body. Most tasters found this wine to be excellent, so did I, but I don’t believe it will be a long runner. I need to be decanted.
Drink it 2010-2018.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon / 96-97
The 2005 vintage is superb, one of the best ever made at Dalla Valle, although it is so young and dense it doesn’t show the complexity of the more mature vintages, yet. At this stage, it’s very intense and sweetly fruity, still with the rare elegance one always find in the wines of Dalla Valle, no matter the vintage. As in the 2004 vintage, some spicy and slightly toasty oak is present both on the nose and the palate, so a few more years of bottle age would be good. Yet, it is a very fine wine, dense and silky, and although the mineral notes don’t stand out, they are there to tickle the tongue and give that extra dimension to the taste. My guess is that this wine will be a classic. Drink it 2012-2030.


  1. Regarding 1998 vintage. When I was in Napa 2005 i tasted 5 vintages of Robert Mondavi To-Kalon Cabernet. The one i liked the most, they were all great, was the 1998 vintage. I guess Dalla Valle could be a wine for me.

  2. Ruso,

    I agree with you, the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Mondavi is a very fine wine, not as great as vintages such as 1987, 1994, 1997 or 2001, but still a very good wine that proves that 1998 vintage wasn't too bad, after all.
    Over the last two years, I have tasted many lovely 1998s from Napa Valley and Sonoma, and I guess that we also have to take into consideration that we have a "european palate", and like wines with a more classic structure and not overripe, sweet fruit.

    Other fine 1998 cabernets includes Chateau Montelena, Opus One, Shafer Hillside Select, Harlan Estate (it's really awsome) and Verité.