Are Cult Cabernets Worth The Craziness And Cost?



A review of some “Cult Cabernets.”


By Louis Marmon


Gazette Newspapers  March 21, 2007


Harlan MaidenCult Cabernets are a subset of limited production, highly rated and extremely expensive California wines that induce a form of hysteria among devotees. They are usually only available via a special allocation from the winery sometimes requiring a wait of more than 10 years to be able to purchase a few precious bottles.


Are they worth the cost? The answer lies within the bottle and one’s attitude toward wine. To some, any bottle costing more than $12 is extravagant. Others are more interested in the chase rather than the taste, spending whatever it takes to be able to obtain the latest wine prize. Rarely do they open their wines, preferring to display their trophies along their cellar walls — much like latter-day big game hunters.


And then there are generous souls like my friend Steve who hosted a wine dinner at D.C.’s Mendocino Grill featuring 12 Cult Cabernets from the early to mid-1990s that he had purchased upon release. Chef Barry Koslow created four courses of inspired cuisine that paired beautifully with the wines. Each wine was excellent, with its own unique flavors, structure, balance and finish. If it weren’t so expensive, I would join this cult. The prices are the current cost per bottle.


The garnet colored Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet 1990 ($150) is proof that California Cabernets can age well. It has herbal, currant aromas, red currant and raspberry flavors and a lingering finish. A classically California structured effort, the Opus One 1992 ($260) has lead pencil and smoky-floral aromas, currant, anise and spicy oak notes with a full-bodied finish. Caymus Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon 1991 ($270) is another wine that has typical California tannins and great balance with noticeable mint, black cherry, mocha and spicy oak flavors.


The legendary Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine 1994 ($900) has black fruit and currant aromas with layers of deep flavors including red cherry, plum, currant, coffee and a touch of tobacco. It was surprisingly medium bodied with a cedar/red fruit finish that lasted forever. Made entirely from Cabernet Franc, Harlan Estate ‘‘Maiden” 1995 ($200) is spicier; it has black fruit and leather aromas along with cassis, blackberry and pleasant herbal notes.


Philip Togni has been making extraordinary wines since 1981. The Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 1991 ($160) has an interesting lanolin and cassis aroma with lovely red fruit flavors, mint and savory herbs notes. The oak is more noticeable in the Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 ($160) which has black cherry flavors and spicy red fruit, currants and sage flavors, especially at the end.


Dalla Valle ‘‘Maya” 1995 ($525) has gorgeous blackberry aromas and deeply complex red berry, currant and spicy cherry flavors along with a mild oakiness. The floral and chocolate aromas seem to burst from the glass of Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 ($180) that shows chocolate and red fruit flavors along with a slight minerality in the finish.


The Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard 1995 ($370) is spectacular. Medium bodied with blue and black berry aromas, cassis, currant and red berry flavors and a bit of eucalyptus, it has perfect balance and a rich finish. Equally good is the Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard 1992 ($650), with smoky dark fruit and blueberry aromas, along with layers of black fruit, licorice and oak flavors. Stylistically different with more floral notes and spice is the full-bodied Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon Madrona Ranch 1994 ($400). It has deep, complex spicy blueberry and dark fruit flavors with a touch of cherry at the end.



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